What the Fork: ‘Cooking is About Feeding People, Not Impressing Them’ — When Chef White Visits Mumbai – News18


What The Fork

It was a bright afternoon at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai. It’s a hotel, which, at one point, I used to literally use as my neighbourhood hang-out because I live just a few minutes away and they had a well-appointed rooftop private club which was perfect for holding meetings.

In the days when I smoked, I would light up a cigarette and carry along my cup of cortado on the open-air balcony on the 32nd floor with sweeping views of the race course and the Haji Ali seafront. Today, I was there for an altogether life changing experience, and this time not flying so high and with great humility on the ground floor. I was here at San:Qi, their Indo-Asian restaurant, to meet and chat with one of the world’s most renowned chefs — Marco Pierre White.

Marco was conducting a Masterclass for some guests and I was invited to tape a conversation with him for my YouTube Channel ‘Khaane Mein Kya Hai?’, and then also partake of his cooking.

As we set up for the shoot in the glass walled PDA at San:Qi and for the interview I settled down in one of the burgundy red sofas to get my thoughts together. The view through the glass walls is quite enchanting. Chefs and sous in whites and blacks sashaying around the counters. Steam rising from shiny brass stockpots, licks of flames flying above pans, and white smoke rising from the tandoors. It seemed like in slow motion; the kitchen had decided to create a theatrical entry for the man I was about to meet. As the white coated chefs in tall hats parted and the steam between them cleared, I saw a giant of a man in a white T-shirt sitting in a quiet corner, eating a bowl of noodles. Just off a long flight, there sat ‘the godfather of modern cooking’ probably jet-lagged quietly eating his lunch at a corner table. I wondered whether I should go and introduce myself to him, but it wasn’t yet the appointed hour for the interview, and I decided to give him his ‘me-time’.

That quiet giant, both in size and reputation, born of an Italian mother and British father, decided at an early age to train as a chef like his father and Grandfather. After short stints in a couple of restaurants in Yorkshire, he landed up in London and got himself a job as a commis chef under the Roux brothers at Le Gavroche. This was the beginning of his classical culinary training. I’ve eaten at Le Gavroche on one of my early London trips. Marco had already left by then, but along with the Roux Bros, who ran the place Marco has left an indelible mark on “the last bastion of classically rich French haute cuisine”.

I don’t like ordering tasting menus because it’s a very long and time-consuming affair, and like Marco confessed to me later when I spoke to him, he agreed that the food also invariably comes out cold. So, I much prefer ordering off the a la carte. And the two exceptional dishes Le Gavroche makes is the Soufflé Suissesse, which is a foamy cheese couffle cooked on Double Cream and Homard Poché au Beurre, Pâtes Fraîches et Haricots d’Espagne, which is butter poached lobster, fresh pasta, creamed lobster sauce and runner beans.

Marco then went ahead to become the Head Chef and joint owner of Harveys in Wandsworth Common, where he won his first Michelin star, and then became the youngest chef in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars at the Hyde Park Hotel.

Through the glass windows, glistening pots and the steam, I saw Marco rise up and slowly wander towards me. This huge teddy bear of a man, towering two-heads above me walked in, wished everyone, shook hands and settled down in one of the chairs. And then for the next 20 minutes, in a kind and hushed voice, he explained his philosophy of food and cooking. He believes that “when it comes to food, the story behind the food and recipe is more important than the recipe itself,” and that it is all about ingredients, and taste and that food has to be an extension of your own personality.

Big heartier meals better than small portions with fancy decorations. He honestly believes that cooking is about feeding people and not impressing them, so he says all food presentation should express generosity. What a wonderful thought. We chatted about Indian food, which he has great respect for because of the spices we use. He calls them the gems of Indian cooking. He is still enamored by the dosa and sambhar that he ate on his first trip to Mumbai. A taste that still hasn’t left him. He asked me about my favourite foods where I’d like to take him for a meal, my home food, and my favourite food in the UK.

After a cup of tea and a conversation that went beyond an hour, he also postponed his masterclass for half an hour as we chatted, he arose to address the 40-50 people who were patiently waiting to watch him cook. He made “Beer Batter Prawns” look so simple to make, explained proportions like a mother would explain to a child, tossed up some spaghetti with heirloom tomatoes and lobster. And rushed off to the kitchen to prep for his big multi-course dinner, for which the crème de la crème of Mumbai was gathering here at the Four Seasons.

I glanced at the menu. There was — chilled heirloom tomato soup, Andalusian garnish, smoked salmon, celeriac remoulade, Lamb filet of lamb en croute Wellington, Mr White’s mushroom risotto, truffle, parmesan, Mr White’s the godfather creme vanille, champagne poached pear. I did not even go into the wine pairings and palate cleansers and sorbets. It was a hearty British meal as one could have. But with the magic of Pierre White. After the meal, as we hugged he asked me whether I liked the meal and said I was so short that I perfectly fitted in his embrace.

I wouldn’t have imagined this was the same OG bad boy of the professional kitchen who regularly ejected customers from his restaurants if he didn’t agree with their comments about his food. The first British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, and the enfant terrible of the British restaurant scene. To me, he was the benevolent, gentle and kind giant who cooked great meals straight form his heart.

Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.


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