British chef Marco Pierre White's seminal cookbook-cum-autobiography White Heat is being re-released on its 25th anniversary this April. The book, which many considered an upending to the public's perception of fine dining and restaurant life, features a foreword by Parts Unknown host and fellow author Anthony Bourdain.
The Evening Standard's Nick Curtis sat down with the chef — who retired from professional cooking in 1999 — to chat about what life is like two-and-a-half decades after the book was first released. White opens up about everything from his love for chicken coops to his thoughts on Michelin's down fall. He also reveals his true feelings about celebrity chefs ("talentless people with big personalities") and parenting. Below, the 16 best lines.
1) Nick Curtis on White's propensity to shill: "[He] has lent his name to cruise-ship dining rooms, TV programmes and, controversially (though he doesn't see it that way), Knorr stock cubes."
2) Curtis on White's talent: "The most influential and creative chef of his generation is also the prodigal son of British cooking. A council estate boy who started work at the St George Hotel in Harrogate, White trained with the best — the Roux Brothers, Pierre Koffmann, Raymond Blanc, Nico Landenis — then bettered them."
3) White on his post-kitchen career: "I'm not a businessman or an entrepreneur."
4) White on his hobbies: "I like making orchards. I like finding Victorian designs for chicken coops and having them made."
5) White on what he "craves": "I crave the ordinary: wellington boots, fishing."
6) Curtis on why White believes Michelin is no longer as influential: "Michelin stars... have in any case become devalued, he claims, by the company's generosity towards Japan's restaurants in the hope of selling tyres there."
7) Curtis on White's lack of fondness for his cooking days: "He claims not to miss his cooking days: indeed, he says he worked so hard... that he barely remembers them."
8) Curtis on the photos in White Heat: "... and the photos by Bob Carlos Clarke that immortalised him as a furious angel with bruised eyes, a cleaver in his hand and a fag on his lip."
9) White on celebrity chefs: " I say ‘modern-day chef' rather than ‘celebrity chef' because that makes me think of talentless people with big personalities."
10) White on the impact of White Heat: "What White Heat did was bring the middle and upper classes and the aristocrats into the kitchen... Before it was a blue-collar trade. Today, across London, how many kids who went to a nice public school work in kitchens?"
11) White on vividly remembering his mother, who passed when he was six: "When you love somebody it never fades. As I always say to my little daughter, the only way to measure the depth of love you have for somebody is by how much you miss them."
12) White on whether he will marry his rumored girlfriend: "I'm STILL married. I don't want to be a bigamist."
13) White on parenting: "I gave my kids a [private] education because education, after love and kindness, is the passport to everywhere. No matter how much you love your children you will hurt them in some way or another, harm them in some way or another, in the sense that you can over-spoil them, over-protect them."
14) White on politics: "I've never voted. Wouldn't know how to."
15) White on ambition: "I think ambition is the most dangerous thing in the world, because truly ambitious people will walk over anyone to get to the top."
16) White on his hopes for the future: "I would like my next chicken shed to arrive before March, and I would like the blossoms in my orchard to come quicker."