White Heat, Marco Pierre White
27 May 2004
Marco Pierre White (MPW) redrew the boundaries of what was considered fine dining in the UK in the mid- to late 1980s. He was super cool. Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, Jim Morrison in the Doors, and Sonny Corleone in The Godfather: they were all cool, but MPW was the coolest.
It seemed like the whole world was waiting for White Heat. We all knew about Marco, but he and his cooking style were still a mystery to us chefs. I was sous chef to Shaun Hill at Gidleigh Park when I first saw the book. When it arrived on the bookshelves all the chefs rushed out to buy a copy and we were all shocked by it.
At the time, Nico Ladenis, Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann all had books out with neat pictures of the chefs and loads of detail about the food. And judged in those terms White Heat was probably a disappointment, but the book wasn't just about dry recipes.
Inspiration was in the presentation of Bob Carlos Clarke's magnificent black and white prints. Razor sharp, and coupled with MPW's food they are timeless: the book still looks chic, progressive, and happening today. The book broke the mould, just as MPW broke the mould in the way a kitchen is run.
At the time we were all trying to cook what Blanc was doing at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. He was the genius in terms of food and we all copied his summery style - the use of baby vegetables. White didn't give a shit about baby veg. What he did was big portions, robust flavours, taking a best end of lamb and stuffing it with tarragon mousse.
It was aggression, like Oliver Reed's acting. He steamed in, and said: "This is how I do it. If you don't like it then f*** off." That was the real inspiration you took from the book. You took his belief, his desire, not always his food. You took these and made your own picture.
Every master chef before MPW had been French. Here was this man from Yorkshire , land of dark satanic mills. I identified with him on a personal level: we were born in the same year, on Northern council estates, both 6ft 3in, gangly, with straggly, long hair. In fact, there's no way I would still be a chef if it wasn't for him: "Here's someone I can relate to," I thought.
I was fed up when MPW "gave back" his Michelin stars. It was heartbreaking. It was like in Cool Hand Luke when Paul Newman says he set the picture up - you feel abandoned. But hey, the book is still here and we all create our own direction.
Would I recommend this book to my brigade? Yes - it's part of the last 20 years of food history in the UK , which was clearly the most important period of culinary development in our history. It took all the French chefs to bring us the culinary standards, but it took one Englishman to bring the charisma and inspiration.
Paul Kitching, chef-proprietor, Juniper, Altrincham, Cheshire
Marco Pierre White
Mitchell Beazley, about £9.09, depending on retailer