ONCE, when a young chef moaned about the heat in the kitchen, the story goes that Marco Pierre White cut open the lad’s jacket and trousers with a sharp knife.
Back in the day, it was also not unusual to find him personally ejecting customers from his restaurants if they offended him or his cooking.
So, ahead of meeting the Godfather of British Cuisine last weekend, there was just a hint of trepidation. After all, this is the man who trained that other explosive chef, Gordon Ramsay.
Marco may now have retired from the kitchen, but his reputation goes before him.
In the Capital to launch his new cookbook, Essentially Marco, the man himself has said his Michelin Star days are behind him. The face of Knorr stock, he’s now about making cooking accessible to everyone.
Summing up his new approach, he says, “The idea behind Essentially Marco is to show people they don’t need to be a professional chef to create delicious and hearty dishes.
“A lot of the dishes I cover in my cookbook can be easily prepared at home.”
Heading to the MPW Steakhouse Bar & Grill, in the Hilton Carlton, for the launch of the book I had memories of his stint on Hell’s Kitchen, nearly ten years ago now, etched firmly in my mind.
I needn’t have worried. A giant of a man with a firm handshake, we struck up a friendly banter immediately, not about cooking, but about speedway.
Ascertaining that football wasn’t my thing and speedway was, led us to reminisce about World of Sport, as he nipped outside for a smoke.
Establishing we’re of the same era - he has three years on me - it quickly became clear Marco is a man with passion, and one of his fascinations is for old railway hotels. Edinburgh, he was delighted, has two.
Now it’s not every day you get to lunch with your culinary hero just feet away and as he settled down to sign autographs, a glass of red wine and i-pad showing the football by his side, I sampled some of his famous food, starting with the simplest, warm baked sourdough with butter and sea salt.
So good was it that I saved it to accompany my starter, a full dinner plate covered with Severn and Wye smoked salmon, garnished (properly) with shallots, capers and pickled cucumber.
For my main, Wheeler’s fish curry with mango and coriander, with buttered rice tempted. Chunks of whitefish, salmon and king prawns swam in a light curry sauce. Simply delicious.
And though I’m not a dessert man, The Box Tree’s Eton Mess proved irresistible.
Marco may no longer be the scary chef he once was, still, as we parted company, I couldn’t help feeling relieved that I wasn’t one of the chefs in the kitchen that day, knowing that the man who holds the accolade of being the youngest chef ever to have been awarded three Michelin stars was present.
No pressure. Oh! And he just happens to be the boss.