"A story is way more important than a recipe. A recipe can confuse you but a story ... a story can inspire you." Marco Pierre White
Back in 1990 the book on the left was published. It caused a sensation and made Marco Pierre White into a star - a king of cool in the cooking world. This was ten years before Anthony Bourdain and his Kitchen Confidential. You can pick up a copy for an even more cool $650 on Amazon - American dollars at that. Maybe it's a signed copy I don't know. It certainly highlights the importance of it.
For my birthday my lovely daughter-in-law gave me White Heat 25 - an extended version of the original book which has a whole host of pieces by various famous chefs, including Gordon Ramsay - one of his original staff at his groundbreaking restaurant Harvey's in London's, then unfashionable, Wandsworth. There is also a piece from the late Anthony Bourdain. All of them credit him with inspiring them to become the great chefs that they now are. Gordon Ramsay's piece is typical:
"Marco Pierre White, he's the man who started it. he's the man who put the stake in the ground, gave chefs a profile, put London on the map, as well as shining the spotlight on the gritty side of being a cook; the long hours, the sweaty and small conditions - what actually happened on a kitchen coalface." Gordon Ramsay
or Anthony Bourdain:
"This book gave us power. It all started here." Anthony Bourdain
All of which is quite possibly true. It's certainly the beginning of the sort of bad boy glamour of it all, and the celebrity chef, and I can see why, because it's not really the food that this book is all about it's about image. At its most extreme you get images like these two below which are glamour shots. The sort of thing a rock star might do. Somewhat over the top in an arty sort of way. Very striking though.
It's mostly in black and white, and the photographs I have to say are superb. They were taken by the late Bob Carlos Clarke and include still life shots of various foods, kitchen life and so on. Credit should also be given to the designers of the book - Clive Waybill and David Rowley of The Image. Indeed really most of the credit should be given to the design, photography and so on. I don't know whose idea it was, but it certainly shot the young Marco Pierre White to a status similar to that of Mick Jagger in the rock world. There are not that many words - a two page introduction and a series of artfully placed pithy statements from Marco himself alongside those striking photographs - statements such as this, which seemed to have caused a stir:
"Any chef who says he does it for love is a liar. At the end of the day it's all about money. I never thought I would ever think like that but I do now. I don't enjoy it. I don't enjoy having to kill myself six days a week to pay the bank ... If you've got no money you can't do anything; you're a prisoner of society. At the end of the day it's just another job. It's all sweat and toil and dirt; it's misery." Marco Pierre White
He was the youngest chef to receive three Michelin stars - in 1995 at the age of 33, but in 1999 he retired from cooking and instead turned to running a restaurant empire in which he did not cook. Some were more successful than others, and he's still out there on TV and being a guest celebrity here and there. Three marriages down the drain, and still not very nice I suspect. That was then, this is now - he was sort of beautiful, and still is striking. He must be around 60 now:
It all seems rather sad really. In the words of Jay Rayner:
"Nobody has done a better job of obscuring the early, shimmering brilliance of Marco Pierre White than late-career Marco Pierre White."
The books - both the original and the new - are brilliant artefacts - they do indeed tell a story - although whether that story is really true, or indeed inspiring is another matter. It certainly presents an image of a brilliant but not very nice person.
In complete contrast to that part of the book we have the actual food - recipes pictured in colour - and a world away from the grittiness of the kitchen scenario. It's refined, and classy. Very haute cuisine:
"He was in the vanguard of a British restaurant revolution. But the French classicism of the food also makes him look like the end of something: 1987 also saw the opening of west London’s River Café and Kensington Place, both of which served the antitheses of his food." Jay Rayner
River Cafe is where Jamie Oliver sprang to fame - a completely different persona and one who is apparently not liked by Marco Pierre White, even though Jamie was apparently an admirer. Maybe not now. And yes, the trendy, happening food these days is more River Café than Harvey's. Well it's young and hip and well, more friendly. Exciting in a completely different way. In fact most of the big names in the cookbook world now are not chefs - they are recipe developers.
I admit that as I flicked through the recipes I could not at first see anything that I might attempt. And it seems I am not alone.
"none of the chefs I spoke to said they had ever really executed any of the recipes." Jay Rayner
Maybe this one - Escalope of salmon with basil, which is a very simple piece of salmon which is deep-fried, with a buttery and creamy sauce flavoured with basil and Noilly-Prat. So simple in fact that you might wonder what all the fuss is about. You could just fry the fish rather than deep fry it if you are worried about the health of deep frying.
So what about the rabbit stew? Well I also came across a dish I would not make which Marco Pierre White describes as a 'posh rabbit pie". It's called Feuilleté of roast rabbit, spring vegetables, jus of coriander. However, his highlighted thoughts on this dish were these:
"We used to have rabbit stew for tea in Leeds. My dad would just chop up the rabbit and put it in a pan with celery, carrots, onions and stock cubes and cook it until it was done - great. I've loved rabbit ever since; it's something comforting to pick at over a winter's evening."
So there is a mini story, which is so similar to my own experience that I started to wonder about rabbit stew. We had it often as a child. It was cheap. My mother, actually had an extra step to Marco's version because she would soak the rabbit in water overnight, which she maintained made the meat whiter. I actually found this video of Marco Pierre White making rabbit stew, just like this. He even used a stock cube. My mother used water. The only 'fancy' thing he did was to add the kidneys and liver - sliced as a garnish. Indeed he garnished it with fresh parsley at the end. My mum just put it in earlier on.
The interesting thing is the complete contrast with all the fancy food in White Heat, and in his restaurants. You can't get rabbit here in Australia any more. Not unless you want to pay a fortune. Farmed rabbit is apparently too expensive to produce and, moreover, cruel, and wild rabbit is just not allowed because of all the regulations about abattoirs and so on. Also I guess, there is the danger of the rabbits being diseased or potentially poisoned. I've said it before but I will say it again - they really have to get their act together on rabbit. There are literally millions, maybe billions of them out there destroying the environment. Why can't we eat them? Rabbit stew was one of my very favourite dinners when I was young. And that version was very, very simple. There are thousands of others in cookbooks and on the net that are much more tempting.
But I am so glad I have this book. It is indeed an iconic book but as Jay Rayner says:
"Nobody bought it to cook from. They bought it for a bit of Marco."
Or Marco as presented by a very talented team of artists, and as he was in his youth.
Perhaps I'm being unfair. If a whole lot of talented chefs can be admirers, then maybe I should be too. I will try the salmon.