Great chefs have 3 things in common: Marco Pierre White

The famous chef talks about hanging up his apron, the evolution of gastronomy and more

30 July 2017 - 00:01 By Hilary Biller

My father, my uncle and my grandfather were chefs and when the day came for me to leave school I was given no option and went to work in a restaurant when I was 17. When I got into the kitchen it was a tough world, but I never thought it was a tough world because I came from a tough world.
The chefs I worked under gave me this great insight into their world and that's what made me dream. They told me great stories which was their way of teaching me about food, and that gave me the understanding in assisting me in eventually getting my three Michelin stars. [White was the first British chef, and the youngest, to achieve this.] 
If you've got three Michelin stars you respect your clientele as they are going to be paying according to the chef's name above the door.I was behind my stove for every single service. If you are charging Michelin-star prices, you have to be there. When patrons come into the restaurant there is so much at stake you don't want to risk anything. We operated like a machine and were so well-oiled.
When I was 38 I was no longer enjoying life at a stove. My life had changed, I was working 100 hours a week. I had two sons and I'd leave home in the morning at 7am when they were still sleeping and get home at midnight and they were asleep. I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? On December 23 1999, I retired after 22 years at the stove and handed back my Michelin stars.ON FOOD
When I look at where gastronomy is today, it couldn't be further from when I started. I'm a classicist. Today we live in a world of refinement, not invention.
I like my food quite simple and don't like all the fluff and complications. Give me a couple of great courses and I'm happy.
The emphasis has gone into presentation, and have you noticed when you go into a restaurant you don't have that wonderful aroma of food any longer? The most important table in the world is the table at home in the kitchen.When I order a fillet of beef with a wild mushroom sauce and discover halfway through the meal there are no mushrooms or sauce left, I just don't get it. A few dribbles of sauce!
Great chefs I know have three things in common - they respect that mother nature is the true artist, and they are the cook; everything they do is an extension of themselves.
If you think about travelling, what makes it exceptional? It's the food. Nothing enriches your life more than delicious food.ON LIFE
I was never an ambitious man and never set out to be famous. One thing I learnt over the years was that privacy was freedom.I now spend seven months of my year travelling outside of the UK. I'm developing a hotel just outside Bath, restoring an old Victorian house built in 1817.
My one son is a chef, working with the boys from elBulli in Barcelona, my other son a rock and roller, and my daughter a ballerina.
Everything I did in my life was a stepping stone to self discovery. By discovering oneself you give for the right reason and accept for the right reason. I've never been happier in my life.
• Marco Pierre White is in South Africa for the Good Food & Wine Show, courtesy ofBritish Airways.

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