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Sunday, 7 November 2010

We need to talk about Marco

   I implore anyone and everyone to visit youtube and type in 'Marco Cooks'. With luck, you'll be directed to a series made in the 80's when Marco cooked for his mentors; the great chefs of the day. Raymond Blanc, Albert Roux, and Pierre Koffman are all there, all singing hosannas of this prodigiously talented Brit. Close inspection reveals a half-child, wiry, gaunt and intense fellow with clipped tones and a mercurial way with food. The ease and speed, the care and control are a joy to see. A craftsman at the height of his powers and Gordon Ramsay as an awkward and shy chef de partie.

  It is such an awful shame that MPW is a C-word.

  I do not use this descriptor lightly as the evidence is exhaustive. A cursory glance at the index of Ramsay's memoir reveals several instances of Marco's C-wordishness. Mario Batali has a favourite anecdote of when his risotto was dressed undaintily on his face. Marco himself relates the story of how twattishly he fell out with Albert Roux and confronted him over some things Albert had reportedly said (possibly 'I love Marco. But he is a bit of a C-word').

  Why am I bringing this up? There are plenty of C-words in the catering industry after all. I've been inspired. First, a fawning interview (sorry, I love you and want to work for you but it is) in Fork magazine and the recollection of a typical moment of Marco being extra C-wordy in Anthony Bourdain's new book.

   Marco has decided that Michelin-starred restaurants are rubbish and not worth going to.

  His reasoning rests on the notion that you are served 16 canapés and constantly interrupted by a waiter to bring you the next 'creation' with a lengthy explanation of how to eat it. The reaction to this from both myself and better half was 'Has he not been to The Walnut Tree?'. Sadly it is true that you can visit a restaurant with michelin stars and have a miserable time being served soulless dollops of purée with a stingy squirt of jus from a squeeze bottle. But that isn't the only kind of experience you can have. Some starred restaurants are just nice, cosy restaurants that don't do pre-desserts or sauternes foam. The Walnut Tree doesn't even have a sous-vide machine. It is fundamentally wrong to put people off going to a restaurant because some fat Frenchmen rather liked it. What is more, he administered his egotistical diatribe with a chef, who did the sixteen canapé thing, sitting right in front of him (Grant Achatz).

   It galls me greatly that he also speaks of 'flying the flag for the working man' and does this by opening steakhouses. Listen mate, after you've ordered an 1861 bottle of Chateau d'Yquem (costing in the region of £26,000) as you once did, the working man wants nothing to do with you. Steak is our celebratory dish. If you want to help out the working man then give him a meal for £2.50.

  What is sad about Marco, beyond his marketing deals with Bernard Matthews and Knorr, his growing number of chins and that comedy head-towel thing, is that unlike the other great chefs of the 80's, he has shown little enthusiasm for training up the younger generation. While he did indeed give guidance and opportunity to Ramsay, Blumenthal and Stephen Terry he did so for such a short period in his and their careers. Plus his books, barring White Heat, are guffish and impractical.

   One is never a c-word by birth, nor is one forever deigned to be so. It is a behavioural thing. There is evidence of a delightful side to Marco. If he just stopped doing c***ish things he could go back to just being the greatest chef this country has ever produced. 


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