There are three words that come to mind after reading the autobiography of Marco Pierre White, The devil in the kitchen: honesty, sensitivity and values.
Beyond the image of the “enfant terrible” of English gastronomy, Marco Pierre White is someone with a remarkable constitency in his actions, behaviors and reasons for doing what he does. He says what he does and does what he says.
The consistency of delivery great food to become a three-star Michelin chef, goes along with the consistency of the character. You can’t be dedicated to the utmost if your own personality and actions are not aligned. The environment of a kitchen is so harsh, demanding, and rigorous, that you really can’t fake it.
Some events in your life have a lifelong impact, but it is how you harness them that differs from one person to another. Some get destroyed and succumb to addictions, some harness it to reach their best. He could have become addicted to substances like others but he did not. Instead, he got definitely addicted to his work. His dedication for the craft is absolute. His whole personal life went second (or even third) as much as he was consumed by his passion for cooking, his curiosity, and his never-ending research for excellence.
Likewise, his temper and the resulting stories of kicking customers out of his restaurant make sense. He couldn’t be otherwise (whether right or wrong). When someone is so entire, truthful to himself, it’s just logical.
As for his image of a rock-star chef, I don’t feel he ever looked for it. It became a by-product of how people perceived him. It’s always more impactful to showcase a character with a strong personality and antics! But this really works if this character is talented. And Marco Pierre White is hugely talented.
I spoke to an old friend of mine, a few days ago, and asked him if he ate at one of Marco Pierre White’s restaurant. And he did remember his meals at Harveys before Marco Pierre White was famous and then at Hyde Park. It was remarkable to see that he did remember eating in these restaurants (Harveys opened in January 1987) and b) he remembers how the food evolved from one location to the other. Adjectives were not enough to describe his dinner at Hyde Park. In itself, it reveals Marco Pierre White constant research for excellence as well as finding the right setup where he could express his talent to the fullest.
He has been true to his values because the moment he achieved his lifelong goal, the Michelin three stars and the five red “couverts”, he reassessed it all, realizing that his life as a person and not as a chef was actually what mattered more. He could have taken a step back, cooked less, been more on TV and ripped the benefits. He decided not to, gave it all back and focused on himself, changing his life to become a restaurateur. His actions have never been more in line with his values. You can’t criticize something but when it suits you do exactly that. In that regard, his jab at celebrity chefs is quite revealing.
I highly recommend reading “The devil in the kitchen” as it will give you an honest insight, with moments of quirkiness and humor, on the making of one of the most talented chefs of the 20th century.