Thursday 9 April 2015

French Foodie in Dublin Meets Marco Pierre White

A few months back I found myself on my way to Dawson St, where I was scheduled to meet the one and only Marco Pierre White for a chat in his restaurant. I’ve always had this image of him in my head: the black and white portrait, which was taken in the late 80s by Bob Carlos Clarke. Marco Pierre looked like a handsome rock star with his long hair and a cigarette in his mouth. I was quite intimidated at the prospect of meeting the man who was one of the youngest chefs ever to receive three Michelin stars, who later gave these stars back to Michelin and a man who once even made Gordon Ramsay cry.

When I arrived at MPW Steakhouse, the man himself was busy signing an autograph for a young boy. After that I was invited to the table and got to chat to him over a cup of tea. Tall, handsome and now in his 50s Marco Pierre is still full of charisma. I was feeling a bit shy at first but relaxed after a few minutes, he’s only human after all and even gave me some great advice during the interview.

Where did your passion for food come from?

Firstly I didn’t really want to be a chef as a young boy. My mother was a very good cook and I always ate very good food as a child but my father, my uncle and grand father were all chefs. When I was young, you tended to sort of follow in your father’s foot steps so I went to work in hotels. One day I found a guide, like in France you have the Michelin and the Gault et Millaut, in England you had the equivalent which was more powerful than Michelin in those days. I found a guide and I started to flick through and realized restaurants had stars and the best restaurant in Britain was only 15 miles down the road, run by two men. They were obsessed with restaurants with 2 or 3 Michelin stars and I got a job there. They used to tell me stories of great restaurants in France like la Tour d’Argent or Maxims and I used to just sit and listen. The chef I worked for had trained in the same kitchen as my father and the restaurant had 2 étoiles [Michelin stars], one of only 4 restaurants in Britain in those days. That’s when my passion, my love affair with great French restaurants started. That’s a very long winded answer, my god you’ll be here all day…

Well I suppose I have to ask you because I’m French, what do you think of French food?

Well without question French cuisine is the most important cuisine in the world. If you look at the great Italian restaurants today, if you look at the great French restaurants, if you look at the English restaurants which do very good food the method is always French. If you look at the man who changed British cuisine, a man called Michel Bourdain who used to be the sous chef of Maxim’s in Paris. In 1975 he got a job at The Connaught Hotel and the deal he agreed with him was that half the menu had to be English or British and the other half French. What he did was call a dish a steak pie but really it was a ‘daube de boeuf’ in a pastry. He took French methods and introduced them to English cuisine and that was the beginning of English cuisine. That was the great Michel Bourdain and if you look at the great Italian or Spanish restaurants or in Europe generally the foundation is always French. So it is without question the finest cuisine in the world and it’s intellectual, intelligent , refined…The French are the masters, without question.

What do you think of Irish food and Dublin’s food scene, do you come to Dublin often?

Yes I do I come a bit actually. It’s like in England and in Britain in general, the UK and Ireland . When I was a boy there was a restaurant in Cork called Arbutus Lodge with the famous Declan Ryan who worked in the ‘3 Gros’ in Roanne which was a three Michelin star restaurant in France. Declan had three stars when he got running in Ireland, he was the man who led the way, definitely. Today there are lots of very good Irish chefs, you haven’t got a three star Michelin yet but Patrick Guilbaud is very traditional, very proper, very correct and he serves the finest food in Ireland. If you look at the food today in Ireland compared to what it was 15, 20 or even 30 years ago it has changed a lot. You have seen a massive change.

Tell me a bit about your restaurants in Dublin.

They’re very straightforward, they’re not trying to be flash. I think that food has changed but also people’s habits and how they dine out has changed. Ten years ago in Ireland people didn’t dine out that often and today people are out all the time. So therefore what people want now is to sit in an environment where they feel comfortable, where they can get good food and generous portions at a fair price. I chose a steakhouse and I think that what’s we do, we’re not trying to be a Michelin star restaurant but you have fun, you have the buzz , we buy the best meat and it’s as simple as that. It’s like there is this great concept in Paris called L’Entrecôte which I think is a genius concept where you get your salad to start with your walnuts, you get your entrecôte with the sauce and that’s it, genius. So I like steakhouses and I think steaks are the luxury of both the working man and the rich man. Even the working man who puts his hand a little bit deeper in his pocket can get good quality and generous portions.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to work as a chef? Your best advice.

If you’re young and leaving school, make sure you put your career into the right hands. Consider who will guide you and who will teach you correctly.
If you’re older, you need to ask yourself why I want to do this?  Do I want to do it as a passion or as a career? Where do I want to be in 5 years time? You need to have a strategy because time is not your friend. When you’re 16 you can go to the industry and if you don’t like it after a few years you can go to do something else. When you’re 31 you need to decide, you know what you want a lot more than when you’re 16-18. When you’re 18 it’s about getting a classical foundation. At your age you might find that in 5 years time you want to open a French bistro, cause you have more dreams now. So go and learn the right techniques and knowledge, which may lead you to open your own bistro.

What do you think about bloggers, lots of people don’t like them?

But what’s not to like? The reality is they play an important part in the restaurant world. They share their experience, they share their knowledge. Yeah it’s your choice and it’s good for restaurants. It’s one individual’s opinion, you either take it seriously or you don’t.

Merci beaucoup to Marco Pierre White for meeting me and answering my questions! It was an honour to meet a true legend of the culinary world just before embarking my journey to cookery school.