Our Interview With Marco Pierre White Ahead of The Great White Food Festival

Acclaimed chef, restauranteur and television personality, Marco Pierre White, is this year celebrating 45 years in the industry. Yorkshire-born and bred, Marco will be marking this incredible milestone with a 3-day event at Harrogate Convention Centre. 

The Great White Food Festival kicks off this Friday and promises to be the ‘ultimate foodie day out’ with shopping opportunities, activities for children, food and drink masterclasses and a fantastic line-up of chefs and culinary experts joining Marco and his family to celebrate his remarkable career. 

Marco has achieved much during his long career, including becoming the first and youngest British chef to gain three Michelin stars. Widely considered to be the Godfather of modern cuisine, he is one of Yorkshire’s greatest success stories, having been born in Leeds and started his career with an internship at the St George Hotel in Harrogate. 

This morning, I spoke to Marco to learn more about this weekend’s foodie event and gain an insight into how he feels about celebrating his career in the very place where it began…

“I know 45 years ago seems like a terribly long time. I started my career at the hotel St George and not much has changed actually, in many ways. It’s bizarre. I mean The Crown is The Crown and The George is still The George. The Grand is being turned into a care home but The Swan’s still The Swan. It’s like it’s never changed. 

“I’m now just going for a walk in Valley Gardens. I arrived on Saturday and spent some time in Coverdale. I stayed in a place called Carlton in a converted church. It’s an old church / school which has been converted into a house, but a house to rent. It’s really, really well done. Really clever. I’m not saying I’d forgotten how beautiful Yorkshire was but it’s truly breathtaking.” 

The highlight of the Great White Food Festival is almost certainly going to be The White Heat Theatre, where Marco, family and special guests will be cooking live on stage. Full details haven’t been revealed but Marco may have given me a few hints as regards what ticketholders can expect him to cook…

“My mother came from the Veneto region of Italy where risotto comes from. Risotto always walks across the plate; it’s quite light, but we have a habit, even in Italian restaurants, of making it very heavy. Everyone thinks risotto is difficult to make but they like the idea of making it.

“I love tripe! I remember when I was a boy, I used to go through to Leeds market with my father and you’d always see the tripe hanging. I love it. I’ve cooked tripe every week of my life. As I always say: You never leave home really. You take it with you.”

When asked about the culinary experts who will be joining him in the White Heat Tent, Marco said:

“There’s Simon from Leeds – he’s going to be there. Simon’s one of my favourite chefs in the country –  Simon Shaw. He’s a very good cook, a proper cook, old-fashioned. He makes food really tasty and delicious rather than pretty and pointless.

“I’m not being funny but for me, it’s all about the eating and it always has been. I mean, now they’re all small little portions. I don’t want to go to a canape party. Twelve courses of silly little knickknacks are not for me. I’ll tell you what, give me two nice courses and I might have a bit of cheese.” 

Much to my amusement, that last sentence was said in a rather broad Yorkshire accent. One which was far more impressive than mine, despite me having lived in the county since the age of two…

“The truth is I was born and bred in Yorkshire for 19 years so, therefore, my values and my sense of humour had been made.”

What quickly became apparent during our conversation, was Marco’s appreciation for others. As a highly skilled man and someone who has achieved so very much during his long career, he came across as remarkably humble and appreciative of those who guided him during those first few years…

“I was just saying to my friend over breakfast this morning, actually Mr Reid and Mr Long at The Box Tree, they were the most influential in my career when I reflect back. They’re amazing. You know, working at The Box Tree in the late seventies and early eighties when it was regarded as the best in Britain, it was amazing really.”

Copyright: Bob Carlos Clarke

His appreciation also extended to those who are working alongside him to put together The Great White Food Festival:

“There are lots and lots of people there who are supporting the show. Remember, it’s not me; I’m just one little piece of the jigsaw. It’s all those individuals who come together which makes it a very beautiful picture and will make it a beautiful day out.”  

With the cost of living increasing at a worrying rate and eating out becoming less accessible for most, I asked Marco whether we’d see a surge in people taking more of an interest in home cooking…

“I think home cooking has been on the increase for a very long time. Even before the pandemic and lockdown, interest in food and cooking was becoming greater. People started cooking more at home because people started to have love affairs with food.

“I think what galvanised everything and catapulted everything forward by many years was the pandemic and the lockdowns. People had to cook at home. I think there’s always a silver lining in every cloud and I think one of the silver linings is that people cooked more and it brought families closer. It’s very tragic that a lot of good restauranteurs and a lot of people who ran good businesses lost their businesses during the pandemic. It’s very sad what has happened and people are still trying to recover.” 

“It’s like I say, people’s love of food has become greater.  Think of how many microbreweries there are in this country now and how many people are making gin. All these little micro gins, there are masses of them. And food has improved!

“If I think back to what it was like 45 years ago and compare it to what it is today, it’s amazing. The world’s a very different world. When I was a boy, we had dinner every night at home and every Saturday we had lunch and every Sunday we had lunch. I went out once a year and that was on my birthday. When I came home from school, we weren’t allowed to go in the fridge; metaphorically speaking, it was locked. We weren’t allowed to eat until dinner came through and we were hungry.”

Copyright: Bob Carlos Clarke

Keen to know whether Marco would do anything during his 45 years differently, I went on to ask him what we would say to his younger self if he could travel back in time to do so:

“I don’t know whether I would say anything to myself. I think I had to make all those mistakes that I made in my life and all those mess-ups to become the boy I became. I think the reality is that you have to live life and you have to make these mistakes. 

“Without these mistakes what are you going to learn? You’ve got to feel that pain and you’ve got to make mistakes and upset people – that’s how your empathy grows. I think I’d want to make all those mistakes again. Maybe not upset as many people as I did though!” 

The Great White Food Festival will take place at Harrogate Convention Centre from Friday 28th October to Sunday 30th October. Tickets are selling fast but are currently still available to book HERE. 

I’ll be attending this weekend so keep an eye on our social media channels to see what takes place! If you’re heading over too, I’d love to see your photos and hear what you thought about it! Email: alexis@theyorkshirepress.co.uk

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