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Marco Pierre White: "I'm quite shy"

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Marco Pierre White on myths, kitchen nightmares and the problem with Jamie Oliver

You looked pretty rock’n’roll in your days as a working chef. Was that a reflection of how it was?

Not really. Chefs in those days were quite brutal characters, very firm. Whatever your chef says to you – if he screams, if he swears at you – you just say, “Yes chef!” For the first 10 years of your career you say, “Yes chef!”, and then for the next 40 years everyone says, “Yes chef!” to you. That seems like a fair deal.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in a kitchen?

When I was a young chef working at Le Gavroche in Lower Sloane Street, it rained so hard that the basement flooded in the middle of service. Then the pipe under the sink burst and a jet-spray of water flew across the kitchen.

Is it true your nickname is ‘My Little Bunny’? How did that name come about?

That’s what Albert Roux [who trained MPW] called me. You’d have to ask him, I was too scared.

You hung up your apron and handed back your three Michelin stars in 1999 – was that hard to do?

I came from a world where Michelin-starred chefs were in the kitchen behind the stove, they saw everything that went out; the old world of gastronomy, not the modern one, based on celebrity. You win all the accolades, but life becomes boring. You become this well-oiled machine. So on 23 December 1999, I told the judges I was hanging up my apron for the final time. When I left the kitchen at 38, I was quite a shy, inept creature. I went down my little road, spent time fishing and doing things I’d dreamt of doing.

What’s been your biggest catch?

I’ve been very lucky, twice I’ve caught the largest river pike of the season – in 1992 and last year on the Test I had a 33lb 7oz pike. I also love fishing for cod.

What do you make of the ‘cheery’ celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge?

They don’t look tired, do they? When I was a young boy, chefs always looked drained. In the Seventies, there wasn’t café society, pubs weren’t open all day, chefs did split shifts – started early morning, finished up after lunch, had a couple of hours off and then went back in the evening. In their break they tended to go to the betting shop to keep warm.

Is it harder doing a full service now you’re out of the habit?

It’s easy. Some things come naturally. Gastronomy is the greatest form of therapy. I like making a large pot of risotto or a pan of pasta for me and my friends. I don’t like putting food on plates, I like banging something in the middle of the table and all sitting around it.

You’re the face of Knorr. What other cheat items would we find in your kitchen cupboard?

I don’t cheat. By taking shortcuts, you never create the desired effect. You can be clever with ingredients – and yes, I do use Knorr. If I made you a risotto Milanese or a white truffle risotto with a Knorr Stock Pot you would not know. My kitchen is like yours, it’s full of the same things.

You’re also working with Walkers for its ‘Do Us A Flavour’ competition. Is there a dream crisp you’d like to concoct?

I actually had a dream about creating a flavour: I thought a combination of salted caramel and crisps would be sensational. You’d almost make a dust, so you’ve got the balance of salt and sweetness. Delicious.

Marco Pierre White is on the judging panel for the Walkers Do Us A Flavour competition. For a chance to win £1m, enter at walkers.co.uk before 5 March

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