There’s A Lot You Can Learn About Life From Marco Pierre White Besides Cooking

Marco Pierre White

My anxiety keeps increasing as I wait at The Modernist in Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai for Chef Marco Pierre White to arrive. You rarely get an opportunity to meet a GOATED chef like him in person. The opportunity comes my way thanks to World On A Plate who brought him down to Mumbai and Bengaluru for a Masterclass and Dinner (in association with Johnnie Walker) last week. There are several reasons I am intimidated by the “bad boy” of the culinary world: his on-screen presence on Masterchef Australia where I’ve watched him be extraordinarily daunting yet highly humble and encouraging all at once towards contestants on the show; there’s the fact that he’s the first British chef (and the youngest) to be awarded three Michelin Stars and also one of the chefs to have returned them to the Guide; and not to forget, he once made Gordan Ramsay cry. 

So yes, it is quite nerve-wracking to meet a chef of this stature in the industry. I wasn’t sure what I was going to ask him till the day of our meeting. I’ve read so much about him and watched several interviews over the past few years. All I knew was that I had 15 minutes to pick Marco Pierre White’s brain. So I chose to have a candid chat with him about something I’ve admired him for the most–his values and philosophies. 

Marco Pierre White
Chef Marco Pierre White

When I asked him what he’s going to teach in the masterclass, he said, “Well, when you have an hour, you can’t teach much. So you teach the principles.” And so our conversation heads in that direction. “As I’ve always said, cooking is a philosophy. It’s not a recipe. Unless it’s pastry and then it’s chemistry. Once you learn the principles of how to work with something, then life becomes easy.”

Thoughts On India’s Culinary Culture…

Having visited Mumbai for the fourth time, Marco is without a doubt fascinated by the Indian culinary culture. So what really draws him towards it? “Well, firstly, everywhere you go in the world is quite magical. It’s all beautiful. But what makes you want to keep on going back to a country is one, the people, and two, the food. Because if you don’t have very good food, you never really want to go back, do you? For instance, I just had the most delicious biryani for lunch, where the lamb was cooked on the bone from the shank. And in the end, I could suck all the marrow out of the bone. I thought it was so deliciously cooked. The only problem was I had to share it with Kiran (the founder of  World On A Plate). It was mine, and then Kiran appeared. I hate sharing my food. I’m quite possessive over it.” I find myself suitably amused – I relate so much to him when it comes to sharing food.

“India is, in my opinion, one of the great cuisines of the world. It doesn’t have the recognition it deserves on the world stage. I think it’s slowly getting there. And no one uses spices or has an understanding of spices like the Indian cooks. Every time I come to India, the food never, ever, ever disappoints,” he adds.

On Being Ruled By His Fears…

If you look at Marco’s culinary journey, there’s so much that he achieved quickly because he started so young. But I am interested in the story that Marco never wanted to be a chef… This path was chosen for him. He only followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps who also worked as chefs. He did what he was told. He stayed focussed and did his job. But one of the things he’s always said is that he was ruled by his fears during his days in the kitchen. And I wonder if that is because people say they conquer their fears. 

“I think people are lying when they say that,” he shares. “You can never conquer your fears. The insecurities you’re born with, you still have at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70. They’re inside you. What you do is learn how to deal with them, live with them, and accept them. But you can never dissolve them,” he tells me. 

“I was ruled by my fear of failure; it drove me. So I’d never work eight hours a day. I’d work 20-24 hours a day, seven days a week. That fear of failing, of being sacked, of not being good enough. To be in touch with your fears is very positive and cathartic. Because it fuels you, it gives you that drive that you require to realise your dream. If you have a dream, you have a duty and a responsibility to yourself to make your dream come true. No one can make it come true for you. Because we accept that success is born out of luck. Luck is being given the opportunity. It’s awareness of the mind that takes advantage of the opportunity. So you have to see the opportunity.” And that’s how things panned out for the chef. Luck did its job by presenting an opportunity before him and he grabbed it at the right time to get where he is today. 

On Focus And Discipline…

Marco Pierre White

In a world where we often find it difficult to separate our personal and professional life, Marco has unlocked the secret to doing it. It’s all about being focused and disciplined. “Outside of the kitchen, I’m a fantasist. In the kitchen, I’m very programmed and I don’t really have freedom because I’m staying focused on everything that I do. So, the first thing, the most important thing in a kitchen is being disciplined, then you have the opportunity to have the ability to absorb pressure. Because if you can’t absorb pressure, how can you deliver? Whatever you do in life. And so, therefore, I think discipline is really important.” Discipline leads to focus and that’s the key to not getting distracted.  

Looking Back At The Past…

“Can I say…what has been done is done. You can’t change it. So we become a product of our past. That’s what we are. And therefore, a wise person takes knowledge from their mistakes. And that’s what you evolve into. You have to make all those mistakes to become the person you become if you have the ability to accept your wrongdoing and take the knowledge from the mistakes you made.”

On How Restaurants Can Sustain…

Marco has always believed in offering hearty meals at affordable prices. “The easiest thing in the world is to overcharge. I’m a great believer in creating value. Work hard for your money. Don’t be lazy. Most people want to be lazy. You have to work hard. And you’re from a culture where people work very hard. The majority of people in India are not self-entitled as opposed to England.” 

“I had a look at the price of my lunch I had. What amazing value! Because the person who cooked my biryani has great knowledge and worked very hard to obtain that. I don’t remember the last time I had a biryani as good. And then the service, very understated but very kind. I look at what I’m given, then I look at what I get in Europe. Oh, I could truly live here,” he adds. 

On What The New Generation Of Chefs Can Offer…

“I think the world we live in today is not just restaurants or cooks. Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone wants to be important. For the majority of people in my world, their ambitions are greater than their abilities. I think in life if I’m going to give any advice to a young person, make sure your abilities are greater than your ambitions. And then wherever you arrive in life, you will stay there. You won’t be pushed off of your position. You see, people get to the top and then they go, don’t they? Never to resurface again. Because their ambitions are greater than their abilities.” His wisdom struck a chord with me, his words echoing in my head. 

On Cooking At Home…

Marco might be the devil in the kitchen, but he is as much of a saint outside of it and loves to cook at home for his family. “My favourite type of cooking is one-pot cuisine where everything is in that one pot. You can take that pot to the table and then serve everybody. I like risotto. I like big bowls of pasta. I like stews. I like a big roast with all the trimmings. I like things which are filled with calories. Because a life without calories is not a life. I didn’t get this large by dieting,” he shares. 

Right before I take his leave, we get a picture clicked together and he tells me, “Why don’t you blow that up and I can sign it for you.” If I had a portable printer handy, I would have certainly taken him up on it. Instead, I head to the hotel again the next day to experience his dinner, a chance to meet him once again. I see the chef patiently signing menus for everyone in attendance. When it’s my turn, I tell him, “I couldn’t blow up our photo for you to sign on it, but getting your autograph on the menu is the next best thing.” He smiles, and thanks me for my presence. And I leave having enjoyed hearty Italian food and a memento from Marco.  

- Lifestyle Editor


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