Rock and roll chef Marco Pierre White’s Michelin star chasing days are over. He chews the fat with Gavin Havery during a visit to Durham to check on his newest restaurant

FROM his humble beginnings on a Leeds council estate, Marco Pierre White, arguably the greatest chef of his generation, has amassed a multi-million pound fortune.

But, despite success that has allowed him to eat in the worlds’ finest restaurants, his tastes remain relatively simple.

An evening meal for the 57-year-old, dubbed the enfant terrible of the UK restaurant scene, who famously returned his three Michelin stars, might be an omelette, a ham sandwich with English mustard, roast chicken or a bowl of pasta.

He says: “The truth is I have been spoilt and very privileged in my life because of my job.

“So in the evening I will just have something simple and I am not a fussy eater.

“I am the same as most people really. I do not want all of that fancy food.”

His trip to Durham yesterday was to visit his new restaurant, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill, in the recently refurbished Old Shire Hall, now Hotel Indigo, in Old Elvet.

He set himself up for a busy day with a full English breakfast and a stroll around the city before settling into a book-signing session among piles of the 25th anniversary edition of his best-selling book, White Heat.

Holding court, glass of red wine in hand, White is personable and charming, engaging with people who queued patiently for a chat with the star before trying out his recently revised menu.

He cuts a different figure from the fiery chef who once made his protégé, Gordon Ramsay, cry, and cut a hole in the back of the chef whites of one staff member who dared to complain about the heat in his kitchen.

Born the third of four boys to Frank White and Maria-Rosa Gallina, he says the seeds of the significance of food and hard work were sown when he was young.

He says: “My mother died when I was six so I had to help in the household

“When I was a child we were too poor to have tinned food so I remember peeling potatoes or peeling onions. I remember my dad studying the joints of meat in the butchers, so we always ate very well.

“Food was very important but it wasn’t gastronomic.”

White, who left Allerton High School in Leeds without any qualifications in 1978, is the son and grandson of chefs and says he ended up working in a kitchen, following a family tradition.

He says: “I left school and just did what my father told me. If my father had been a miner I would have gone down the pits.

“If my father had worked in the mill I would have gone and worked in the mills.

“I never questioned it. The truth is it was a job. I did not have a love affair with it.”

White trained as a chef, initially at Hotel St George in Harrogate and then at The Box Tree in Ilkley before moving to London to train as a commis chef with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche.

He then trained under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, and Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane, before branching out on his own.

In 1987, White opened Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common, London, where he won his first Michelin star almost immediately, and his second a year later.

He became chef-patron of The Restaurant Marco Pierre White in the dining room at the former Hyde Park Hotel and won the third Michelin star, and then moved to the Oak Room at the Méridien Piccadilly Hotel.

In 1994, at the age of 32, he had become the first British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars and also the youngest in then Michelin history.

But five years later, dissatisfied with the system of how stars were allocated, he retired from the kitchen and returned his Michelin stars.

Thrice married, White has gone on to carve out a lucrative career as television personality and restaurateur.

His new grill in Durham will not be a contender for a once coveted star, and that is how he wants it.

White says: “Top restaurants now offer ten, 11, 12, courses and they are just little canapés on a plates. They are little nick-nacks. They are lukewarm. They are never satisfying. The whole experience is too long for me. I do not want to sit for three or four hours for ‘an experience’.

“You are stepping into an illusion, which is not real, and what you are doing is just buying a conversation for tomorrow.

“It is no different from stepping into Gucci, or Yves Saint Laurent or Hermes for a handbag.

“There is too much emphasis on making food look pretty rather than being delicious and, for me, food should be comforting.”