Legendary chef, rock star culinary personality, and mentor to Gordon Ramsay has never been afraid to speak his mind. A man of such stature has more than earned his right. We were fortunate enough to sit down with Marco Pierre White to talk the current landscape of the Michelin stars rating, the nuances of fame vs. work, and the Good Food Festival taking place this month.
A while ago, you stated in an interview that the Michelin stars don’t mean what they used to mean, and that you’ve had better experiences eating simple dishes of street food than at these supposedly acclaimed restaurants. Why do you think that is? Do you think there’s an increased air of pretension in the culinary world these days?
Well firstly, I’ve become very disillusioned with Michelin today… And lots of my friends, well, should I say lots of individual chefs I speak to, some of them being friends, actually… they’ve sort of lost respect for Michelin and what they stand for. It’s a very different world… they go to Japan, and the first guide has thirteen restaurants with three stars from Michelin, it sort of goes against everything that… I was brought up to understand about Michelin… You prove yourself over a period of time. And you have to prove consistency to earn three stars.
There’s a very interesting book by Bernstein… where he interviews an inspector for Michelin, and he said the instructions were… when you go to the inspection, when you go to Japan, what you have to do. And it’s really interesting, you should read it if you like reading… I’m not trying to be controversial, I’m not trying to criticise Michelin, I’m just saying I don’t understand what the guide represents now. In my opinion, it’s not the same guide it used to be… I don’t really know what their strategy is. It’s when they took the star away from Gordon Ramsay… what they’re saying is every one star restaurant in the world [according] to the Michelin guide serves better food than Gordon Ramsay… and I find that very hard to be true.
I must say, you will forever be one of my heroes for handing the stars back. Very rock and roll.
I’d just done my time, you know? I was from that old world of gastronomy where a head chef would be behind your stove for every service. And, fair enough, his hands might not touch every dish, but his eyes touched every dish. His palate touched every dish. And your presence in the kitchen delivers that consistency or style that’s required… Once again, chefs that have gotten three stars are not in their restaurants… but in the old days, to earn three stars, you have to be behind your stove. And it’s like you and I buying tickets to watch Elton John play his piano and sing his tunes, and we turn up to… his number two playing his piano and playing his tunes. We wouldn’t be too happy.
As well as being noted as a legendary chef throughout your years, you’ve also been noted as the first celebrity chef. Do you ever wish that you’d gotten less attention as a personality, and that people would just pay attention to your food?
Well firstly, I never did what I did for fame. When I started out, there were no celebrity chefs, you tended to recognise the establishment instead. In those days, everyone knew the maître d', but no one knew who the chefs were… It was the establishment that was famous. Not the chef. It was the maître d' was famous. Not the chef. And so over the years things changed where the chefs have become more famous than the establishment… I was never really ambitious… I do my job well, I was a boy with a dream of winning two stars from Michelin, and I made my name by what I served on my plate, not by being on TV. TV came later… I’m not one of those individuals who need to be consumed. I’ve turned down 99% of interviews. I only do interviews when I’m employed by people… Outside of that I will never, ever, ever do interviews.
On the subject of celebrity, you’ve just debuted the Australian version of Hell's Kitchen.
Well the truth is, I didn’t know who any of the celebrities were.
I think you’re not alone on that front.
I mean as far as I was concerned, I was the most famous person in the room [Laughs.].
I think I agree with you wholeheartedly on that statement.
I genuinely didn’t know who anyone of them were. As always, I’m there to do a job, and my job is to instruct everyone to the best of my abilities, and bring out the best within the celebrities.
In addition to this, you’re also involved in Good Food Month.
I went to the opening ceremony last night, and I’ve got to say, I found it rather magical. It got dark after seven o’clock, and it looked like walking down a magical street with lots of people, and the smells and the scents… It was quite illuminated, quite Christmas-y. I thought it was rather beautiful. People from Sydney and beyond were just having a wander around. It was really rather beautiful.
And finally, I know this is a bit of a gimmicky question, but if you could plan your last meal, what would it be?
I think it’d be more who I’d want to be sitting with… I think that’s how I would look at it, because, I think at that stage, it’s not about what you eat [Laughs.], it’s about who you spend your time with… Eat and enjoy the conversation. And that moment of being with somebody you love. And care for. That’s what would be important for me. To prepare myself at that sad moment of my life, where it’s [time] to exit.
See Marco at 2:00pm Saturday, October 7th at the Hilton Hotel, Sydney. Tickets are $49-$199 per person. This is one you don't want to miss out on.