Slave to the Kitchen


You’ve gotta have a lot of respect, and a healthy does of fear, for someone who can make Gordon Ramsay cry. Anyone who has spent hours watching Hell’s Kitchen wondering where the hell Ramsay learned to run a kitchen like THAT can look no further than his teacher and mentor, Marco Pierre White.

The original enfant terrible chef, White tells his tale in an autobiography entitled White Slave. The product of an Italian mother who passed away when he was very young and a perfectionist father who was also a chef, White was driven early on to become the best chef in the UK. He racked up Michelin stars, wives and restaurants.

White Slave details White’s childhood struggling with dyslexia (the book was “ghost” written by James Steen), his early days in the kitchen, his various romances and his philosophy for running a kitchen. He became notorious for kicking out customers who complained about any aspect of their meal, often with a system in which the front of house staff completely cleared the table, including tablecloth, and left the customers sitting there, speechless. His drive and perfectionism were passed on to his proteges such as Ramsay, Mario Batali and others.

White recounts an incident where the cheese cart, normally wheeled out to customers by front of house staff, was looking picked over before dinner service. He took each piece of cheese, whipped them against a wall in the kitchen near the entry where they stuck fast, and insisted they be left there until the end of service, as a lesson to the employee who neglected to replace the cheeses with larger ones.

In 1999, White, the youngest chef in the world to receive three Michelin stars, gave back his stars and retired from kitchen work. Running a kitchen is physically and mentally demanding and White claims he finally realized how much of his life he was missing out on, hidden away in a kitchen. He now had a family, a wife, and was the owner of a number of restaurants. He claimed he would never cook again.

Like most autobiographies, there is much left unsaid, but White isn’t one to spare feelings. He’s straightforward in his accounts, and with the help of Steen is able to convey his drive and determination. He’s even able to justify the poor treatment of his chefs with the the excuse of a haute cuisine restaurant needing to be perfect.

Earlier this year, White did the one thing he swore he’d never do again – donned an apron and went back into the kitchen, this time to run the show at a UK version of Hell’s Kitchen, once hosted by his protege and former friend Gordon Ramsay. Whereas Ramsay is all spit and vinegar, screaming, cursing, and throwing dishes, White simply needs to loom over the contestants (all UK celebrities), give them a certain look, and say something as simple as “that’s terrible”, to strike fear in their hearts. He is a terrify man, even without the cheese projectiles.

White’s behaviour is softened in his retelling within White Slave, but this is definitely a read for anyone with a morbid fascination for back of house antics, the exquisite perfectionism of haute cuisine, or a love of high end food. White will never escape his bad boy reputation, even though it was mostly temper and not a true rock and roll lifestyle.