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“Some of them tried too hard. They’ve literally got 30 minutes to cook one dish and share their story. Rather than just doing something very simple they felt they had to really show themselves off and give an insight into their world, and it’s all too much. A lot of them ran out of time. To put lots of different things on a plate and make it perfect is very hard. The less you put on a plate the more chance you have of achieving perfection.”

Another bugbear was the number of contestants who served food they labelled ‘modern British’. “It’s not modern British.” he bemoans, “It may be English combinations like pig with apple sauce, but the reality is they’ve taken French methods and introduced it into British cuisine.” Despite his fearsome reputation, he says he was never nasty to the contestants. “I’m not there to criticise them. I might be a bit cheeky, I might be a bit facetious - I’ve got to entertain myself somehow. I always did it in a kitchen, so why should things change when I’m in a truck?”

Although many couples left disappointed, White was happy to take part in a programme that gave exposure to hard-working establishments and featured ‘real people rather than celebrities’. “They all wanted to win.” he smiles “but the reality is that they all couldn’t - but they still left the show winners, because what they were getting was a spotlight on their restaurant.” After all, promoting the industry and giving opportunities to others is, he says, now one of his main aims. He climbed the ladder of the culinary world very quickly himself, winning three Michelin stars by the age of 33 and training a string of people who have gone on to become big names, including old sparring partner Gordon Ramsay.

White famously handed his stars back in 1999, when he gave up cooking professionally and went on to build up his own empire of restaurants and pubs. In recent years, he has become a familiar face to non-foodies through shows such as Kitchen Burnout and Hell’s Kitchen. But he does not count himself among the raft of celebrity chefs who have been filling our screens for the last decade. “I don’t regard myself as ‘a celebrity’. I’m not seen in public. I don’t go to

award shows, I don’t go to gatherings of any description. Therefore I don’t live the lifestyle of a celebrity. When I’m not working within my businesses, I tend to be at home or with my family or in the woods. I’m happiest in my wellies.” he happily concedes.

In fact, White confesses to not even owning a television, preferring to “read, have a conversation, play chess”. He adds: “And also there are certain people I don’t like in this world so why do I want them in my front room? It’s as simple as that.” Warming to his theme, he says he came across an episode of Dancing On Ice while in a hotel room in Liverpool, and found it so “hideous” he had to switch it off.

Despite his distaste for reality TV, he says he has no desire to return to his days of working in a kitchen. “You have to be honest in life. For the first 22 years of my career I was a chef in the kitchen. I realised my dream. I was a very lucky boy. For the next 10 years I was a restaurateur and now I’m a publican. And I kind of like being a publican. I really do.” He says his main concern is that he’s expressing himself, and adds: “I think back now to when I was a young man in my industry. People shared their knowledge with me, so I share my knowledge. People shared their stories so I share my stories of my industry and days gone by. People gave opportunities so I create opportunity. So it’s just passing on the baton.”

Life Begins 37

Marco Pierre White

Born in 1961 in Morley, Leeds, he was the third of four sons. When White was just six, his mother Maria collapsed and died from a brain haemorrhage.

After secondary school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and trained as a chef. He moved to London when he was 16, and worked under Albert and Michel Roux, among others.

By 33, White had won three Michelin stars. During his time at The Oak Room in London’s Piccadilly, he trained top chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal.

In 1988 he married for the first time, and had a daughter. Three weeks after meeting model Lisa Butcher in 1992, they were engaged. Two months later, they were married. The marriage lasted 15 weeks.

He met Mati Conjero, with whom he has a son and a daughter, in 1993. They married in 2000 and divorced in 2007.

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