Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White on winning Michelin stars, sharing knowledge, discovering India’s culinary diversity

“Just remember, butter is the best,” says chef Marco Pierre White when asked about the dish or food he would like to eat as his last meal. White, who was the youngest (and first Englishman) to be awarded three Michelin stars is in Mumbai for a weekend as part of the fourth annual World on a Plate festival.

Prior to the two-day festival, White did a press conference at the St Regis Mumbai, where he will also be cooking two meals (dinner and a Sunday brunch) over the course of the weekend. It is White’s first trip to India and it's clear that he is as excited to be here as the adoring journalists and city’s food insiders are to have the opportunity to see him. Indeed, when one journalist professed her joy to see him, “alive and in the flesh,” White, without missing a beat responded, “I’d imagine I’m much better alive than dead,” to a round of laughter.

Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White on winning Michelin stars, sharing knowledge, discovering India’s culinary diversity

Chef Marco Pierre White

During a follow-up interview that encompassed everything from winning (and then returning) multiple Michelin stars to his maiden trip to India, White displayed a candour that is rare in the profession, especially as a generation of chefs in this country seek to maintain celebrity-like auras. Talking about winning this third Michelin star at the age of 33, he says, “Winning three stars is without question the most exciting journey in a young chef’s life. Retaining them is the most boring job in the world.” Though when prompted to speak about the experience of serving Michelin’s famed inspectors, he says, “There was the scent of rubber when they walked through the door.”

“I’m not from the modern world of Michelin, I’m from the old world,” White explains as he expresses discomfort with how, when the revered French guide launched in Tokyo and Singapore, it awarded multiple restaurants with three stars from the get-go. For White though, cooking should be about gradual refinement, which builds over the years. While he has a disdain for today’s celebrity-driven dining world, he does have this to say, “There’s nothing wrong with giving awards because awards make people dream. We have to look at the positive and not the negative of the awards.”

Indeed, it was White’s goal to achieve three Michelin stars, and he did. After achieving his goal he changed tack, working to impart knowledge, but also, he came to the realisation that he was “being judged by people with less knowledge than me,” a criticism that in turns means that when White eats, he says, “I never judge chefs in my life, I merely form an opinion,” with dry British charm. White’s new career path, which sees him lend his name to four different eateries that have outlets all over the UK, in addition to consulting with P&O Cruises, is at odds with his philosophy of refinement over reinvention, but then again White had already achieved his goals while rather young.

As a result, in this new phase, which has seen White appear on television shows, most famously Masterchef Australia, he’s says, “I think you have a duty to share your knowledge, I think you have a duty to share your story and I think you have a duty to inspire — I think that’s really important.”

While in Mumbai, White will be cooking, but also tasting dishes at the festival. Asked about what he knows about the cuisine and he says, “The little that I know about Indian cuisine, it's more than food, it’s a religion,” before launching into praise of the sambar that he had for lunch, after arriving from the UK earlier that same day. About this trip, White says, “There are certain places and certain spaces you feel an emotional pull to,” before elaborating that India is one of them. For the chef who made his name with French cuisine, he draws parallels between our local use of spices and the fact that he trained in kitchens were spices were used as well. With the chance to get a peek into how local food is cooked, one can only wonder if the transfer of knowledge that White refers to will end up being a two-way street.

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 12:42:39 IST

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