I live in my own head most of the time. It’s a Macnaughty happy place and I have a tendency to operate on a memory retention need to know basis. I am not a foodie per se. I like eating and I like good wines so I am not completely indifferent but I am also not going to have an over indulgent orgasm over an over priced stuffed mushroom. That is a lot of ‘over’ I have just written – I may have over done it. What I am meant to be saying is that I had a fairly limited awareness of Marco Pierre White. I knew he was a celebrity chef, I had seen that he had popped over to Brit Mums recently and they were very excited about it, and I had seen an advert about Knorr stock cubes and that was it. The sum total of my awareness of Marco Pierre White.
I had heard that he’d opened a pub in Wiltshire and so when I got the call asking me if I was interested in meeting Marco and checking out his pub, I knew, as sure as eggs is eggs, that the food would be, at least good, and as I am not one to turn down a free sandwich on a Friday - I thought, ‘why not?’ Then I thought why not drag my photographer chum Christo Nicolle along so that he can drive me home and I can get pissed. Fab – a boozy lunch with Marco Pierre White – what a great way to round off the week. Of course, the poor unsuspecting Marco Pierre White had no idea that a tanked up mummy blogger was about to be unleashed upon him but I did seem to recall that he had this reputation of being a bit of a wild child himself so on reflection he would, without doubt, be definitely be full of empathy. I read up a bit and discovered that he had three Michelin Stars (I had no idea really what this meant other than I could never afford to eat what he cooked) and that he was from Leeds. A Yorkshire lad – a real life Dick Whittingdon rags to riches fairy tale. Well, I am from Yorkshire originally and so there is always some influence from the motherland that I can tap into somewhere. It’ll be fine.
When we arrived – Mrs P, Christo and me (Mrs P is the Commercial Director from the Blackmore Vale – she lives in the same village. Christo was our chauffeur) Marco Pierre White was resting on the table outside surrounded by a bevy of beauties, or perhaps a gaggle of girls. He was holding court in his rough wollen heavy set waistcoat, white shirt and wellies. His tousled hair was a perfect accoutrement to the lilac wisteria languidly adorning the pub face. He was a bigger, more robust man than I had imagined. I didn’t want to meet him straight away. I wanted to bloodhound round the pub and check out the interior and see the rooms. I wanted to see what soap they had in the loos. I think you can always assess the quality of a place by the type soap in the loos. Molton Brown being my favourite loo hand soap and cream, for the record. It wasn’t Molton Brown; but it wasn’t awful either.
The interior was was strong and robust with big fabrics – stone, wood, steel and bronze. What struck me instantly was the clinical order of the place. I thought, ‘an ordered mind put this together’.
I wanted to know in advance could I embed at Wheelers The Pear Tree Inn in Whiteley, Wiltshire for a naughty weekend? Once I had eaten and drank mucho Vino Tinto I knew that it was time to meet the big man himself. I sought him out. He was very obliging. He was in full work mode. Charming and informative. The pub was his. He had taken something lesser and made it more. He toured me around like a posh, with a northern twang, heavy set guide – it went along the lines of – ‘the bins were here so I paved the way for a clean run, no litter here, and I added this marvelous estate fencing which I painted black. I found them at a reclamation yard. I gravelled this and we tidied that. Come let me show the pear orchard.’ I skipped behind him, a bit wobbly in my sheepskin clogs and slightly warm and fuzzy from the Rioja that had washed down my medium rare steak. The pear orchard was very young – only a month old. The gardener, (the brother of the manager that manages all of the Wheeler’s venues), who planted the pear trees last month, and also, manages all the gardens of all the venues, told me beforehand that Marco was sure there would be plentiful pears to make pear tarte tartin at picking time. ‘Pear enough’ I thought. It was nice to look at pear trees whilst eating in the conservatory. I was already a convert. I loved it. I could do nowt but agree as he strode me round.
I mentioned that I had noted that ‘an ordered mind had put the place together’ and to my surprise he replied ‘thank you’. Then he went to qualify where order was and order wasn’t. The lawns were mown but not too mown so the edges, they were meadowlike to encourage wild flowers and wildlife.
Inside space was important. Everyone must feel relaxed – a table shouldn’t be too crowded. Plenty of elbow room. Every artefact was hand picked, selected by him – all originals. He’s friends with the illustrator, the artist, or he found it in a reclamation yard. It couldn’t be perfect – there were things that he had to live but he thinks he got away with it, or has made the best of it and that it doesn’t matter. The dresser took many men to carry it but it was worth it. (I agree because the dresser is a magnificent piece.) He can’t bear pubs run by accountants.
It’s all personal to Marco and he is passionate about every one of his pubs. He has a rag tag band of merry folk that support him, often trotting between venues – they know him. They don’t feel like he is giving them orders and they feel like they are part of a team, who are delivering his vision. It doesn’t mean he’s not giving them orders – it just means that he’s good at delivering his vision.
The Rioja was making me feel bold so I asked him was the order almost ‘sociopathic‘. His response was not what I expected at all – first of all he analysed out loud the word ‘sociopathic‘ empahsising ‘without emotion’ and then concluded that everything he did was with emotion and passion and therefore, he wasn’t sociopathic. I was quite surprised because I knew that somewhere in Marco’s world the word had been discussed before. He was very relaxed and it was becoming clear that whilst he was a world famous three star Michelin chef now he is a business man – the caretaker of the businesses he manages.
He cooks at home, using his aga, where he lives alone with a bonkers lurcher dog called Clive (which incidentally is the same name as his brother. I think it’s weird when people give their pets human names – I once had a friend who named their cat Tina and another whose Daschund was called Stephen.) I was told later by another journalist that apparently he is dating a Fox – a foxy lady who is part of the Fox acting dynasty but I don’t really care about that. Apparently, according to Marco Pierre White his wild child status is legend and lore and that he is in fact, very boring, ordered and disciplined. But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good rumour.
Marco Pierre White is a huge fan of the military – he’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan to cook for the troops. He thinks he is civilian who has been militarised by his career. Everything in his life is about discipline and order. His humble beginnings on the Michelin star shop floor were about militaristic perfection. Taking the heads off a 100 artichokes, precisely day in, day out, day in, day out – in uniform – a chef’s uniform. Since he started cheffing - it’s routine, structure, discipline, orders and perfection. In life he wears a uniform. He doesn’t buy his clothes off the peg – he doesn’t shop. He has a tailor and he wears the same thing for the different occasion – suit for this, or suit for that or waistcoat for casual, etc - another uniform. In his mind, Marco Pierre White is the number 1 and it’s true – he is The Godfather of chefs – the Don Juan. He is the First Sea Lord or the Chief of the General Staff. He is in charge and it’s his way or the highway. Even his beer and cider are called The Governor. The Governor was very gracious to me, the drunk mummy blogger – I could tell he was being very tolerant – amused by my impishness. It was a good day and really for him it was about showcasing his pub. In a way I would like to have poured gallons of red wine down his throat and unraveled him because I think unleashed he could be tempestuous and funny.
He did tell me that he loves Bird’s custard – it is his guilty pleasure.
What was interesting to me was that when I asked him a question, he very rarely looked me in the eye – more often than not he would direct his answers to Christo who was taking photos. He was very protective of his personal space (which is not a criticism) and I could sense his tension when I asked for the cheesy grin shot of me and him. He never smiled so when I attempted to pretend to lick him to try and get him to crack smile just a snipsy bit. He nearly jumped out of skin. Fortunately, I was able to get him to shake it out and he did smile at me; but not for the camera.
Apparently, someone told him he shouldn’t smile because it didn’t make him look perfect but I think ‘sod that – if you are happy smile’.
Life’s too short Marco Pierre White.