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Meet Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White

Dubai; As Titanic opens its portholes this evening at the new Melia hotel in the rather odd location of Bur Dubai, FooDiva meets the man who many say instigated the UK celebrity chef trend in 1995 at the age of 33, when he became the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars.*

Marco Pierre White already has three franchises in the UAE – MPW steakhouse and Frankie’s at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Abu Dhabi, plus Frankie’s Dubai. He retired from the kitchen in 1999, yet has expanded his restaurant empire to 23 restaurants – so why another opening and why Dubai?

Meet Marco as he regales FooDiva in Titanic’s lounge with many a Michelin, Afghan and stock cube tale (interspersed with footie chit chat – he’s an Arsenal fan by the way, not Chelsea given his restaurant at their football club). I forewarn you grab a cuppa or a tipple of something stronger as you’ll need a few minutes to digest.

1.    You have three franchises in the UAE already. So why another restaurant here in Dubai and why Titanic given your original restaurant in London closed down?

I like the Middle East – it’s easier. Australia is too far away. America, you’re like a splinter and many of my friends have come back home with their tail between their legs – you’re a threat to them. Dubai opens its arms to you. They want individuals with brands, with talent, with stories.

I like Titanic – it’s straightforward. If it’s just MPW, then you’re expecting that three-star Michelin. Titanic is much more casual – you can sit and have your dinner here [in the bar lounge area]. I’m a smoker, so I don’t want to sit in the main restaurant. I like casual dining. I don’t want to dress up. I like simplicity. It’s all about lifestyle, about enjoying yourself, sitting with your friends and loved ones and having a nice dinner. A nice portion of food – big piece of halibut, chunk of tuna, nice proper steak with a bit of salad on the side. It’s about eating. I like romantic environments. I like music in a restaurant. I like the visual side of restaurants and to smell the food. I don’t want the formality. I don’t like 18 courses of knick knacks and lukewarm food.  I get bored. It’s a way of chefs controlling what’s in the kitchen for when they’re not there.

Titanic by Marco Pierre WhiteTitanic by Marco Pierre WhiteTitanic by Marco Pierre White

2.    And why with Melia Hotels?

It just happened one day. You sit down, a glass of wine. Now I am trying to buy another hotel in England. I didn’t try and buy it. I just sat down for brunch one day and all of a sudden I am buying a hotel. You walk down your road in life and things cross your path. It’s quite interesting and that’s the beauty of the restaurant business – all those individuals you meet.

3. Clearly you’re not going to be in the kitchen here. So who’s in charge?

I am not going to live a lie and pretend am behind the stove. To do what I do, I can’t be behind the stove. It’s as simple as that. Frederic [the hotel’s Executive Chef] has worked in many Michelin star restaurants with Mark Meneau and Joel Robuchon. Titanic’s Chef Beeknoo has spent time with us in Wheeler’s in London. This morning I was in the kitchen with them. I like sharing my knowledge, my story. I like my freedom now.

4.    Titanic’s cuisine is described on your website as European. Tell us about the food. Where is the produce sourced from?

Food is clean. You have to take the weather into consideration here so it’s sunshine flavours, almost Mediterranean. The quality of the produce is of a very good standard. Very little is local, like the whole of Dubai. Tuna, veal, foie gras – all very good quality. In time, people will start to create more farms which will supply [the trade].

 5.    But what about educating the diner on local, sustainable fish by adding it to the menu?

The local fish should be used as a fresh fish special of the day I feel. I do think given the expat population here you need your classic fishes – your halibut, tuna, salmon, lobster which are beautiful, great quality. Clientele may not know what the local fish is so it’s about creating a menu with recognisable ingredients. You can’t educate people – you can only inspire people. It’s whatever the demand is.

6.    What’s your view on Michelin? Does it help or hinder?

Winning three stars is the most exciting journey on earth for any chef that receives it [to win one, two and then three]! Can you imagine winning three stars in day one today – where’s the journey, the value? But retaining three stars is the most boring job on earth because it’s very repetitious. If you have your big specialities, you can’t really change your menu that much, because people are coming to you for those specialities. Also the reason why you don’t change is because it’s too high risk and too much is at stake. You spend your life winning three stars – now you have to defend your position, your reputation. Movement on the menu is very slow.

I got to the stage in my life when I had realised my dream – to replicate the great French restaurants. I wanted two things – three Michelin stars, and five red knives and forks. That was my dream. In 1995, I won my three stars and four black knives and forks. In 1998, I still had my three stars and five knives and forks. I had everything I had set out to achieve. So when I was 38 years old, and getting up early, leaving home when your boys are fast asleep in your beds – you come home after a day’s work and your boys are fast asleep. Six days a week – it pulls on you. I was like the Christmas fairy sat on the top of tree. I became the boss of the world, but when you’re up there, it’s quite lonely. Your regulars are people that come twice a year – you’re cooking for strangers. Where’s the pleasure? So much to risk, why risk it? It’s almost conveyor belt cuisine, replication, consistency, day in day out – which won you three stars. You only change with the seasons. You can’t reinvent the wheel. So it was 1999 and I had realised my dream. I’d proved myself. I’d had my three stars for five years. So I decided to pluck up the courage and told Michelin I was retiring and gave them back my stars. The next day you are unemployed, but you have your freedom and have the time to grow emotionally. For 22 years, all my energy went into my food, not me as a person. So when I stepped out of the kitchen at 38 years old, I was quite socially inept, fearful of the outside world. I’d been institutionalised in the world of Michelin.

7.    Do you think Dubai is ready for Michelin?

I would actually flip that question and say is Michelin ready for Dubai? I actually think Michelin doesn’t work very well outside Europe – I think it works in France, UK, Spain, Europe. Not really beyond, because I’ve been to Michelin star restaurants in America for instance and my perception of Michelin is ABC, and I sit in a Michelin star restaurant in New York for example and if that’s one star then there should be another 1,000 restaurants in Britain with Michelin stars. When Michelin took away Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin star from Claridges, what they were saying is that every one star restaurant in France is better than Gordon’s at Claridges. Not true. Michelin is now a very commercial monster – they go to Tokyo – year one, 14 three stars. They go to New York – year one, four, three stars. This is against the Michelin criteria.

When I was a boy to win three stars with Michelin you had to prove yourself and tended to only be proprietor-owned restaurants which won three stars and that showed consistency. You earn your first star, your second and then your three stars if you ever get that far. To start giving three stars straight away from year one makes you question Michelin and its value – they dish out stars like confetti now. I go back to the 70s when I became very obsessed with Michelin. Michelin does not have the credibility it had all those years ago. Michelin when it first started, supplied a service to clients that bought tyres. Today it’s a publishing arm that has to make money. It’s not a service anymore, it’s changed. Also to win Michelin stars you had to be behind the stove. Today how many chefs whose name is above the door are really behind the stove? When I won my three stars, Mr Brown and Mr Bulmer came to advise me [in advance of the public announcement] –  when I walked them to the door and I shook hands with them, Mr Brown said ‘Marco never forget what made you great’. What he was saying to me was ‘stay behind the stove.’ If I am going to spend big money on a restaurant you want the great man behind the stove.

8.    Tell me about your work in Afghanistan.

I’ve cooked in Basra, Kabul, Helmand – it’s non-political. I give the troops their Christmas lunch. The emotional impact is extraordinary – it’s very difficult to describe. When you’re there you don’t think of the dangers, only when you come home. So this year I fed the troops when they came home at their army base. It’s my little way of giving back – amazing how appreciative they are. Something as simple as a mince pie means the world to them. A little like Oliver when he asks for more. They made me an honorary member of their regiment and I have all these badges – it’s amazing.

9.    You’re also due to open a Wheeler’s at DIFC with RMAL Hospitality. When will it open?

I own the global brand, the oldest fish brand in the world. I was part of Forte when the hostile takeover with Granada happened, so I ended up buying it because the brand may have died and that would have been very sad. We have six in the UK, 15 by the end of the year. Dubai will open soon – later this year.

10.  And finally a question from a FooDiva follower, do you really believe a stock cube is as good as home-made stock?!

Firstly, I don’t use Knorr as a stock, I use it as seasoning, so instead of salt. I still make my chicken or fish stock for example, and add Knorr. It’s about taste and flavour. You have to loosen the blinkers. I use Knorr all the time.

Very well media-trained answer Marco! One hour and 45 minutes later our conversation came to an end (what you see is only a snippet) as Marco was rushed off for a Dubai One cooking demo. Gosh he had FooDiva mesmerised so I hope I’ve been able to transcribe a little of that magic. A chef-turned-restaurateur who swopped his Michelin stars for honorary badges (and the odd stock cube) – so passionate, so focused, so articulate, but most importantly so incredibly honest – he says it like it is. There’s just something so endearing about Marco, many an egocentric chef would be wise to soak up his advice.

But is brand Marco Pierre White enough to pull the punters to Bur Dubai, even if the boutique hotel at first impressions is rather sexy? Titanic, I sincerely hope your journey is not as ill-fated as your namesake. FooDiva will be watching as you set sail tonight and weave a little of that Marco magic.

Titanic by Marco Pierre White is located at the new Melia hotel in Bur Dubai on Kuwait Street. Click here for a peek of the menu – very well priced by the way! Licensed. Open daily for lunch and dinner. T; +971 4 3868111 E; melia.dubai@melia.com

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

*A record now held by Italian, Massimiliano Alajmo who won three stars at the age of 28 in 2002.

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    Chefs, Dubai, European, Hotels, Licensed, Meet Chefs, Michelin, Restaurants

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38 Responses to “Meet Marco Pierre White”

  1. dave reeder May 17, 2012 at 9:07 am

    You met Marco? Why didn’t you mention it?

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Wait until I annoy you even more tonight! Hope it’s helped with your research :)

  2. Susan May 17, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I’m a huge fan of MPW! His book Wild Food From Land and Sea was one of my first serious cook books and I still love it today.
    So we will make the trek to Bur Dubai but I hate the name of the restaurant. Titanic stands for heroic failures, for glitz and glam on the surface and shoddy workmanship down below. Not good karma!

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      I do find it very odd Susan that Marco picked Titanic out of all his previous restaurant brands – the only positive is a high search engine ranking! I’ve only ever dined at L’Escargot and Canteen years ago, but by Marco’s own admittance he was never in the kitchen of the latter!

  3. I Live in a Frying Pan May 17, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Love the interview! Fascinating responses to thought-provoking questions. The man clearly has a ton of conviction and honesty about life, what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do. I’ve never been to a MPW restaurant, but I’ll be eager to hear your thoughts once you’ve tried Titanic before I decide whether to spend my bucks there. :)

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks Ms Frying Pan :) I am still on a high from interviewing him – such a spell-binding experience. Let’s see what it’s like at the opening tonight, but I will return in a few weeks for a formal review.

  4. Francine Spiering May 17, 2012 at 10:19 am

    The magic shines through, Foodiva, it does. Wish I had been a fly on that wall, and me thinks you are allowed to weave his name into any conversation for a long time to come. About the choice for seafood on the menu though: I understand his reasoning, but I for one would welcome a (wider) selection of local seafood. Even if you believe you can’t educate people, you also have to believe many more come to your restaurant with an inquisitive palate for food. At any rate, “classic”, also depends on your part of the world: halibut as a classic for one may very well be amberjack, trevally, mackerel, pomfret, swordfish, flouder, red snapper, cod or what not for someone else… all the more reason to put local fish on the menu!

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      Glad the Marco magic shines through Francine :) Couldn’t agree more and we had a bit more of a discussion on that matter than what’s written here. I really had to edit it down as there was too much and you would have all fallen asleep! I firmly believe if the hotels/ restaurants/ supermarkets don’t champion local sustainable fish, how on earth is the regular consumer ever gonna ask for it? The Choose Wisely campaign is fantastic but they need to reactivate it. I think Marco’s point about expats wanting international recognisable produce is just a perception and not fact. And also let’s be honest, that’s how F&B makes its money here – by charging a premium on imported produce. But that’s a topic for another post I reckon!

  5. Melanie May 17, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Great looking decor and an inspiring menu. I have fond memories of its London namesake and will certainly make the journey to visit this soon. It will need to be truly fabulous though, if this is to be a regular haunt… Methinks a little off the beaten track for many, so hope that the Titanic has what it takes to be a big enough draw in the long term.

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Mel come with me for my review – would love your opinion on how it compares. But yes location is crucial – look what happened to Verre by Gordon Ramsay at Hilton Creek.

  6. Drina C May 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    He comes off as a genuine person with a thought out into every one of his answers. What a fascinating personality, I can see why you have a food high

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      Sure is Drina – quite rare to find that still in celeb chef land.

  7. Kellie Whitehead May 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Lovely interview – thank you!

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      A pleasure Kellie. I really enjoyed writing it (aside to talking to him of course!)

  8. Amy from Appetite for Discovery May 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Great questions and equally interesting answers. Absolutely agree with your response to Francine above, people are becoming more and more aware about where their food is coming from and also more willing to expand their palates. I for one would be disappointed to know that I was being served (and paying extra for!) exported produce if alternatives were available locally.

    • FooDiva May 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      Thanks Amy. True – the consumer is becoming more conscious of what they are buying, ordering and eating. Farm to fork is so important now – we just need to convince the hoteliers and restaurateurs.

  9. Amy from Appetite for Discovery May 17, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Or imported rather!!

  10. kelly May 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    He was very honest to say that he is not behind the stove anymore…! Very interesting interview!!!Many years ago, we had a very nice meal at his Canteen Chelsea Harbour-apparently he sold his share in 1996! You were also there, by the way….

    • DNCW May 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      And we went to the one in the lowry, manchester…

      • kelly May 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

        We were not impressed with the Lowry in Manchester, if I remember well….

    • FooDiva May 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

      I have fond memories of that evening in the Canteeen – am pretty sure I ate calves liver. When I mentioned the Canteen to Marco, he claimed he was never in that kitchen as was too busy trying to keep his three Michelin stars at Restaurant MPW! I also used to frequent L’Escargot quite frequently – great venue for our fashion events.

  11. dave reeder May 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

    After a scheduled interview time stretched impossibly from 6pm to midnight, after the successful opening night meal, MPW couldn’t have been more charming, although clearly he was ready to relax with friends. He spoke almost with fondness about Ramsay but most about the absolute passion he has for simplicity and taste – his description of Leeds market as a young boy were so vivid and clearly so visceral in his mind. He has a strong opinion on everything but expresses himself with great authority and restraint – a lovely guy. Amazingly, he revealed that, for all his obsession with matching the French greats, he has actually never eaten in a Michelin star restaurant in France! Despite the location, you should check out the Melia – the Sanjeev Kapoor outlet already has a buzz about it as well.

    • FooDiva May 18, 2012 at 9:35 am

      True – great evening fuelled by free flowing Laurent Perrier :) Food was good considering they fed 80 odd people five courses – except for the disappointing Eton Mess. Such a simple dessert to make why add creme anglaise? Incredible buzz though. The bar/ lounge area will do well. Let’s see what it’s like when I return for my review.

      How bizarre – he was describing dishes at Le Tour D’Argent in our discussion. Clearly very well media trained! Look forward to reading your interview.

      I thought the Sanjeev Kapoor outlet wasn’t open yet? Or are they waiting to bring him over to officially launch?

      Oh and he admitted to me that he was probably too frank in our discussion because I was the first to interview him (on this trip) – love him even more!

  12. dave reeder May 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Sanjeev’s place has had soft opening. Wasn’t running last night because of the competition. Interestingly, it’s being touted as his first in Dubai, despite his outlet behind American Hospital being around for years…

    • FooDiva May 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

      He also has his name to Options at Dubai Convention Centre…unless he’s pulling out of those like Atul Kochhar has done with Zafran.

  13. shy May 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Great interview Food Diva…Look forward to trying out Titanic…Going by Marcos description of the place…Casual dining in a relaxed atmosphere..Just too perfect to unwind with friends on a weekend…
    Yes look forward to your review on the Titanic.

    • FooDiva May 18, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Thanks Shy. The decor is beautiful and very inviting. I too would pick the lounge area to eat in rather than the more formal main restaurant. Until I return!

  14. dave reeder May 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

    i’m still recovering from the very poor pastiche of ‘the winged victory of samothrace’ which rather dominates the restaurant! it’s odd, because the rest of the hotel is very stylish in an understated way – not quite armani, but clean, confident colors and styling in a modern european fashion. i was lucky enough to be invite to stay the night and the rooms are well appointed and comfortable with a great bathroom

  15. CC May 19, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Cool post as always, FooDiva! I always enjoy reading your articles. Yours is one of the few blogs that I actually look forward to reading. One question though… What’s wrong with the restaurant being in Bur Dubai?

    • FooDiva May 19, 2012 at 8:55 am

      Thanks means a lot :) I was half-expecting that question, so am glad you’ve asked it. Whilst I appreciate that Bur Dubai is still very much a residential area (it was my home for many years too!), Dubai has expanded so rapidly the centre of town now stretches from DIFC/ Downtown/ Business Bay to New Dubai/ Dubai Marina. We also have to take into account that for a restaurant to succeed it should also appeal to holidaymakers and business travellers and they’re mostly staying at the beach hotels or the DIFC vicinity. The perception for many is that Bur Dubai is too far (even though it’s not really – it’s just we’re spoilt in Dubai!), and when there’s plenty of good choice on your doorstep, why venture further? You only need to look at the example of Gordon Ramsay’s Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek which suffered from its location. I am sure Titanic will do well to begin with as people try it out. The test is whether it can encourage repeat business, and only time will tell. What’s your thoughts?

  16. IshitaUnblogged May 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

    What an interesting interview. I am glad that CC asked my question and you have already answered! I am sure that Titanic will do very well – the decor seems brilliant and so does the menu. Ref Marco Pierre: I wonder how it feels like to achieve so much at such an young age. I am sure he’ll have to come up with more stimulating ideas at each level just to motivate himself!

    I am getting slowly addicted to your reviews and interviews:)

    • FooDiva May 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      It’s no wonder Marco burnt out Ishita. Looks like he has plenty of businesses under his hat though to keep him occupied. Thanks Ishita, that’s a very kind comment – I hope I can keep entertaining :) .

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