Marco Pierre White (born 11 December 1961) is an English chef, restaurateur and television personality from Leeds. White has been dubbed the first celebrity chef, and the enfant terrible of the UK restaurant scene. He was called the godfather of modern cooking by Australian MasterChef (Season 4, Episode 53). White was, at the time, one of the youngest chefs ever to have been awarded three Michelin stars. He has trained such chefs as Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone and Shannon Bennett.
White was the third of four boys born to English chef Frank White and Maria-Rosa Gallina, an Italian emigrant. White left Allerton High School in Leeds without any qualifications and decided to train as a chef, initially at Hotel St. George in Harrogate and then at the Box Tree in Ilkley. Aged 16, he went to London with "£7.36, a box of books and a bag of clothes", and began his classical training as a commis with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche.
During this time, Albert Roux described White as "my little bunny". He continued his training under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire (now the site of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), moving to work in the kitchen of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, and later with Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane. He then branched out on his own, working in the kitchen at the Six Bells public house in the Kings Road with assistant Mario Batali.
In 1987, White opened Harvey's in Wandsworth Common, London (now the site of Chez Bruce), where he won his first Michelin star almost immediately and was awarded his second in 1988. He later become chef-patron of The Restaurant Marco Pierre White in the dining room at the former Hyde Park Hotel, now Mandarin Oriental (where he won the third Michelin star), and then moved to the Oak Room at the Le Méridien Piccadilly Hotel.
By the age of 33, Marco Pierre White had become the first British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars (the three chefs who had previously won three stars while cooking in the UK, the aforementioned Roux brothers and Pierre Koffman, were all French). At 33 he was one of the youngest chefs to win three stars (the record was then held by Heinz Winkler, who achieved the feat at age 32, and is currently held by Massimiliano Alajmo, who did so at age 28).
Although White worked for 17 years to pursue his ambition, he ultimately found that, in spite of his accomplishments, recognition and fame, his career did not provide him with adequate returns in his personal life. So, in 1999 he retired and returned his Michelin stars.
"I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself. I had three options: I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind the stove or I could give my stars back, spend time with my children and re-invent myself."
During his early career in the kitchen, White regularly ejected patrons from his restaurants if he took offence at their comments.
When a customer asked if he could have a side order of chips with his lunch, White hand-cut and personally cooked the chips, but charged the customer £25 for his time. A young chef at Harveys, who once complained of heat in the kitchen, had the back of his chef's jacket and trousers cut open by White wielding a sharp paring knife.
Marco is seen in UK adverts for Knorr stock cubes and stock pots, a Unilever brand. In answer to criticisms that he'd "sold himself out as a chef" by acting as a brand ambassador for such products he said, "by working with companies like Knorr it allows me to stand onto a bigger stage and enrich people's lives... Michelin stars, they're my past."
White announced his retirement from the kitchen in 1999 and cooked his final meal for a paying customer on 23 December at the Oak Room. After his retirement he became a restaurateur. Together with Jimmy Lahoud, he set up White Star Line Ltd which they operated together for several years before ending their partnership in 2007.
In 2008, White opened the MPW Steak & Alehouse with James Robertson in the Square Mile in London. As co-owners, since 2010 they have also operated the Kings Road Steakhouse & Grill in Chelsea. James Robertson had worked for White as a maître d', between 1999 and 2003. Since May 2016 the two restaurants have become the London Steakhouse Co, a successful partnership and are, as of May 2016, the only restaurants worldwide in which White is a major shareholder. "Marco Pierre White - Steakhouse Bar & Grill" and "Marco's New York Italian by Marco Pierre White" are franchised brands operated by third parties which have outlets in various hotels throughout the UK.
White had a stake in the Yew Tree Inn, a 17th-century dining pub near Highclere in Hampshire, although following an acrimonious falling out with his business partners the pub was sold. This was the setting for much of "Marco's Great British Feast," screened on ITV in the summer of 2008. In January 2009, it was reported that White was to charge £5 for a pint of real ale at the venue, making the Yew Tree "one of the most expensive places to drink British real ale in the country". White was quoted saying "Most pubs undercharge. You're not just paying for beer, you're paying for the place you drink it in and the people who serve it."
White has published several books, including an influential cookbook White Heat, an autobiography called White Slave (entitled The Devil in the Kitchen in North America and in the paperback version), and Wild Food from Land and Sea.
TV and film career
In September 2007, White was the Head Chef in ITV's Hell's Kitchen television series.
At one ed point during the series, controversy ensued when White said, "I don't think it was a pikey's picnic tonight." The remark prompted criticism from the Commission for Racial Equality. However, the show was defended by an ITV spokesman, who indicated that warnings about its content were given before transmission, and that White's comment had been challenged by one of the contestants, Lee Ryan. The book accompanying the show, Marco Pierre White in Hell's Kitchen, was published on 23 August 2007 by Ebury Press.
Other TV work
- The Chopping Block
On 18 March 2008, it was announced that White would be the host of an American version of the Australian cooking competition series The Chopping Block. The series, produced by Granada America, the production company behind the American version of Hell's Kitchen, aired on NBC in March 2009 but was pulled after three episodes due to low ratings. After a three-month hiatus, 'Chopping Block' returned to complete its season.
On 7 July 2011, White was a guest judge on Masterchef Australia mentoring the cooks in an elimination round.
On 15 June 2014, White began a week-long appearance on Masterchef Australia presiding over a mystery box challenge, an invention test and a pressure test.
On 17 May 2015, White began his second week-long appearance on Masterchef Australia, in Week 3 of Series 7. On 12 July 2015, he returned for a second week on Masterchef Australia Series 7, entitled "Marco Returns Week".
On 8 May 2016, White began his third year running, and fourth week-long appearance on Masterchef Australia, this time Week 2 of Series 8.
- Celebrity Big Brother 2011
On 27 August 2011, White was a houseguest on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother to set a cooking task.
- Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars
In 2012, White fronted a new show for Channel 5 called Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars. It saw the UK's best restaurant partnerships balance food with front of house service, fighting for a place in a specially designed studio restaurant, where the top couples are each given their own kitchen and set of diners to impress. It received mostly positive reviews from critics.
White is a principal judge in this competition between professional chefs, which started 20 January 2013. White co-hosts the show with regular MasterChef Australia host Matt Preston.
On 11 December 2014, White appeared on the South African version of MasterChef which aired on M-Net. He had a cook-along in the final challenge in the finals between Siphokazi and Roxi.
On 6 September 2015, White appeared on the New Zealand version of MasterChef which aired on TV3 (New Zealand). He was the Head Chef/Mentor of a team challenge consisting of the final 8.
White has been married three times. His first wife was Alex McArthur, who was the daughter of a surgeon from Buckinghamshire, and who worked at his local fishmonger. After a year-long romance, they were married at Chelsea Register Office on 8 June 1988; neither family attended the ceremony. He has a daughter Letitia, from the 2 year marriage, which ended in 1990.
White then met 21-year-old model Lisa Butcher at a London nightclub. They were engaged within three weeks. White says today that he was so intoxicated by her looks that he forgot to think about her personality.
Engaged for two months, Butcher sold the wedding in a £20,000 deal to Hello! magazine. The wedding took place at the Brompton Oratory on 15 August 1992, where Albert Roux was best man, and the couple forgot to invite the groom's father and brothers to the ceremony. White says he knew the marriage was a mistake when he saw her £3,000 floor-length, backless Bruce Oldfield dress with cutaway sides. White told a reporter that she looked dressed to go down the catwalk rather than the aisle. Butcher says of their 15-week marriage: "We went to the Scilly Isles for our honeymoon. On the first day, Marco turned to me and said, 'I don't love you.' We spent two miserable days when we didn't speak and he went shark fishing. Then I left." In her one interview about the marriage, Butcher has hinted that something unspeakable happened on the honeymoon: "Something very bad did happen but I'm not going to say what it was. It really wasn't a very pleasant experience for me and my family."
In 1992, White began a relationship with Matilde Conejero, the bartender at The Canteen. and went on to have two sons: Luciano (born December 1993), Marco Jr. (born 24 May 1995), and a daughter, Mirabelle (born 2001), born after White retired and the couple had married at the Belvedere on 7 April 2000. At the wedding, Gordon Ramsay turned up with a TV crew (who were filming for Ramsay's Beyond Boiling Point) having told neither White nor his bride. White and Ramsay have not spoken since. After White became friends with city financier Robin Saunders, Conejero wrongly suspected an affair between the two. White and his wife had a fight, after which White spent 14 hours in the cells of Notting Hill police station in January 2005. White and Conejero began divorce proceedings in 2007 after she confronted two of his waitresses over affairs and his close relationship with singer/actress Martine McCutcheon. In 2011 the divorce proceedings were withdrawn but in October 2012 White and Conejero separated again.
On 7 June 2016, White's son, Marco Jr, became a contestant on the seventeenth series of the Channel 5 reality television series Big Brother. In his pre-entrance videotape, Marco Jr. stated that he would not be cooking for his housemates, despite the profession of his high-profile father. Marco Jr. was the first Housemate to be evicted, after a risqué relationship with fellow Housemate Laura Carter.