Of Spices And Stories: In Conversation With Marco Pierre White
Gourmet festival World On A Plate has celebrated three successful seasons and this year’s edition is currently taking India’s maximum city by storm. The original bad boy of the culinary world (the enfant terrible, as certain sections of the media fondly call him), Chef Marco Pierre White inaugurated the upcoming event at The St. Regis Hotel in Mumbai on Friday. National and international culinary chefs and connoisseurs like Chef Sarah Todd were among the celebrities present.
White is as witty as they come but that comes as no surprise – his reputation precedes him. Those present at the launch were treated to the restaurateur’s signature Wild Mushroom Risotto and his acerbic wit – his forthright comments about Michelin stars and the state of the food industry right now were devoid of any sugar coating and diplomacy that one has grown accustomed to in this world run by PR professionals. The Britisher also made it evident that for him, the plating and the display is not as important as the story the food tells – it’s the smell, the association and the chatter that are the perfect condiments.
The fourth season of WOAP will pit some of the country’s top restaurants against each other for the highly coveted ‘Best Restaurant Award’ which will be judged by White and Ranveer Brar.
MW sat down with White for an exclusive conversation. Read on.
Do you remember your earliest introduction to Indian cuisine?
In England, we have lots of Indian restaurants. I think I must have been about – apart from my father making colonial curries at home – I would say I was 16 years old when I first went to an Indian restaurant.
What was your initial reaction to Indian food?
I like spice a lot so I liked curries as a boy. I like spice a lot but when you have Indian food cooked by bigger cooks, what’s interesting is understanding that balance of spice.
Globally, in the last 10 days, how has the food industry evolved?
It’s evolved enormously. It’s getting bigger and bigger and that’s probably because of the media or TV.
Do you think that’s a good thing?
Yes, because it inspires people to come into the industry and for people to become aware of food wastage and also to buy better produce. So I think food helps people.
What tectonic shifts do you foresee in the next decade?
I can’t answer that question, I don’t have a glass bowl.
Which countries are doing the most exciting work with food right now?
I think they’re all doing exciting work with food in different ways. I think some of its gone a bit too far. The reality is, sometimes, you can overwork food too much. When you buy something that’s truly beautiful, you don’t do too much to it, do you?
Your favourite meal – your chicken soup for the soul – your go-to comfort food?
It depends – the last three mornings, I’ve had fried egg sandwiches for breakfast. I might just have a ham sandwich for dinner. I’m not the largest of eaters if that makes sense.
One dish you would test a chef by and why?
I’d ask them to fry an egg.
Really? Do you think that’s a tough thing to do?
It gives you insight. They’ve got to understand temperature and they’ve got to understand the cooking of that egg. Most people will mess an egg up.
The most memorable meal you’ve ever had.
I’ve had lots and lots of meals over the years but my favourite place in the world is Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence just outside Nice. Beautiful. See, when I go for dinner, it’s not about the food or the plates, it’s about the evening and the people I’m with. Food is secondary, the company I’m with is important.
And the story.
Yes, that’s what I think.
Your top 3 Indian cuisine ingredients and if you could give any of your signature dishes a makeover with these ingredients, which one would you introduce?
I remember I was in Sri Lanka and I went to this cinnamon farm and it was just amazing watching them peel the bark and roll it – the sticks were that long. But what was really amazing was the scent of the spice. What’s interesting is this – when you see the spices in India and you smell the spices, compared to the UK, it’s on another level and that makes a massive difference. And as I say, the spices and the techniques they use in their cooking that make it exceptional.
(Header credits: Marco Pierre White on Instagram)