Life lessons from celebrity chef Marco Pierre White

What can you learn from a man who’s made Gordon Ramsay cry, but still continues to inspire aspiring MasterChef Australia cooks decades later? A lot — especially about discipline, dim sum, and why his non-smartphone is better than your iPhone

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WHO IS HE
: MARCO PIERRE WHITE, 54, celeb chef dubbed the original ‘rock n roll restaurateur’. He is the first British culinary wunderkind to earn three Michelin stars, and has cooked for the likes of Johnny Depp and Madonna in his hellraising heyday. He’s become synonymous with his fiery passion and strict regime in the kitchen, and has thrown customers out of his restaurant, and reduced protégés like Gordon Ramsay to tears in his kitchen (their very public feud persists today). These days, the revered elder statesman of alpha chefs exacts tough love as a regular mentor on MasterChef Australia. Marco is in town to preside over a MasterChef pop-up restaurant with MasterChef Australia alum and fan fave, Reynold Poernomo.

8 DAYS: To say that you’re tough on the MasterChef Australia contestants is an understatement. Why do chefs always shout at apprentices in the kitchen?
MARCO PIERRE WHITE: The reason chefs shout at and push [apprentice chefs] is to serve hot food. I’m [on MasterChef] to do a job, and that’s to bring out the best in them — it’s for them to know who they are, and how much can they take. I’ve seen people who think they’re better than everybody else in the show. When you have to plate one dish and present it to the judges, that’s one thing. But when you have to do a service for 140 people, that’s another story. You have to learn to absorb pressure, then you can deliver consistency. Never forget that, whether you’re a journalist or a cook. Without discipline, you will not have consistency, and you will never realise your dream. The first thing an apprentice chef should learn is to say, “Yes, chef” no matter how much your chef may push you or shout at you. It’s not personal. If you think you’re fast enough, you’re not fast enough. If you think you’re good, you’re not good enough.

What’s your biggest pet peeve when you dine out?
When people make a fuss of it and ask me if I’ve enjoyed the food. A waiter should almost be invisible — they should deliver the service, and that’s it. We have a rule in my restaurants: we never ask if [the diners] enjoyed their meal. You’re forcing people to make a statement. Allow them to give it. Don’t ask if the food is to my liking, tell me what I’m eating or how to eat it. Please, I’m not a Neanderthal. For me, [going out for dinner is] all about eating and being with friends or people that I love.

You visit Singapore often. What are your favourite places to go eat?
I’m a creature of habit and I always put myself into Raffles Hotel ’cos I like the garden. I tend to go to the same restaurants, and I like to go where I can walk to. I like humble restaurants and individual businesses. Food is most important to me, not the surroundings. I like Tao [Seafood], a family-run restaurant, very much. I also go to Eat First, a restaurant run by a mother and her son. Very simple food, very nice and very family-style — I had the minced pork with salted fish, beef and the broccoli, some ribs and black chicken soup. Sometimes I go to Purvis Street for a bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine at Garibaldi, or to a chicken rice shop on that street which was established in 1940. I’ll have my chicken, rice, little plates of livers and hearts with a little jar of ginger and water, chilli, two types of soya sauce and barley water. I go to Asia Grand a lot. I had a dim sum lunch there today. It’s fantastic value and [the food] is beautifully handmade. I’m going back there tonight.

What’s your take on the way social media has changed the way people dine, like spending heaps of time taking pictures of their food before they eat?
What do you think with a phone like mine? [Waves his Nokia non-smartphone that looks like an aircon remote control] I don’t go online to read reviews. I don’t even know how to turn on the computer. I don’t send e-mails — I sit down and have conversations. In your world, I’m a dinosaur.

How do you survive with that phone?
My battery lasts longer than yours. When I drop my phone on the floor, it doesn’t break. Yours breaks. And yours costs more money than mine! I’d never switch to a smartphone. It’s too big. It’s strange.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
My fridge at home is quite beautiful. It’s from 1932, made with wood and galvanised on the inside. My housekeeper makes sure that there’s always delicious hams or cheeses. If I’m cooking dinner tonight, then I’ll go shopping in the morning and buy what I need. I live by myself and if I’ve got friends coming for dinner and staying the night, then I’ll shop accordingly. It’s a restaurant mentality. I don’t fill a fridge for the sake of filling a fridge.

What did you learn on the job that they never taught you in school?
What school never taught me is how to inspire. If someone doesn’t have the ability to inspire, they can never teach. It was the people I went on to work for that taught and inspired me. I went to [two Michelin starred restaurant The Box Tree] in England to work in the 1970s. There were no restaurants with three stars in those days. I went to work for [restaurateurs Malcolm Reid and Colin Long] in the middle of nowhere and every day we had to say good night to them [after the shift]. They used to tell me stories about the great French restaurants, and tell me in great detail about the dishes. This is what inspired me. Remember, in life, people make you dream. But, like I say to my daughter, if you have a dream, you have a duty and responsibility to yourself to make it come true. No one else can. Mr Reid and Mr Long taught me how to dream. That’s why I say that a story is more important than a recipe. A story can inspire you; a recipe can confuse you. 

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