Chasing my White whale

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFF-9RX82fw]

Quietly, the man who was once the most famous chef on the planet slipped into Sydney, Marco Pierre White. In addition to seeing his daughter who lives there, this first visit was to promote Continental Stock Pot by cooking a dinner for bloggers.

The interesting thing about his trip was that there was no newspaper coverage of the man who at 33 years old – 16 years ago – was the first person outside of France to be awarded three coveted Michelin stars. One newspaper food journalist told me that he was irrelevant and that no newspaper editors would be interested in him, although a few women’s and food mags attended his demonstrations. Jill Dupleix noted during the Sydney Writers’ Festival what a shame it was to see that he sold out.

Meanwhile, in the session between AA Gill and Anthony Bourdain (moderated by Tony Bilson), Bourdain said that “Marco” was the only chef entitled to “icon” status. And that’s coming from a cheerleader for El Bulli’s Ferran Adria.

What it looks like is that Continental had a definite strategy – ignore the mainstream media (apart from one food writer/blogger) and focus only on bloggers, many of whom publish uncritical stories leaving the brand safe from any mainstream media sniping over industrial made stocks.

The funny thing is that so many cooed over Marco (here, here and a quite decent interview here), who probably knew little about him or his significance in the world of restaurants until very recently. They certainly hadn’t ever eaten his food when he was cooking in a Michelin recognised kitchen, which he left in 1999 returning his stars. MPW plucked Mario Batali from being barman to work in the kitchen (only later to storm out), and gave breaks to Gordon Ramsay (who he made cry) and Heston Blumenthal and many local chefs including The Atlantic’s Donovan Cooke in Melbourne.

Way before he became a paid ambassador for Knorr stock cubes (the English version of Continental I guess), he crumbled them over dishes as a more delicate seasoning that salt.

And as Continental tells us in a press release: “Marco Pierre White has used jelly stock in his kitchen for over three years. “Continental Stock Pot does all the work for you and is the closest you’ll get to stock made from scratch – it’s my secret ingredient,” said Marco.

Bourdain is right. MPW is an icon. Dupleix is right; MPW’s sold out.

Am I jealous that I wasn’t there? Shit yeah, especially as I had a commission to interview him.

In the history of modern British cooking, and many top chefs in Australia, MPW is the starting point for everything we see now. Watch out for him on Masterchef, coming soon…

Question: Which Australian chef made Marco Pierre White cry?

12 Comments

  1. Michael, true it’s a difficult line and I guess there are degrees of selling out. I think Curtis is in a completely different category as all he really does is spruik. Maybe I’m just sentimental and would prefer to see Marco back in the kitchen rather than restaurateuring or cooking with pre-prepared stock.

    Phil, more and more targeting of bloggers is happening as many don’t want to enter the difficult and fraught world of asking tough questions, which I believe more should.

    George,
    All good points. Keeping plucking quails and keep out of the TV studio!

    Thermomixer,
    That’s what I mean – I think lots of people aren’t sure who he is or what he stood for. I missed the TV – probably lucky for me.

    Rebecca, apologies for any offense – shall amend text. I love White Heat.

    Neil, true.I know my single mum GF uses pre-prepared stock because she is busy with a full time career and all. I used to use those stocks although it doesn’t take much effort to make one if you’ve roasted a whole chicken. It saddens me that he has gone from very cool to middle Australia.

    aptronym, Sadly if I’d been invited I’d have joined in the fawning! Ouch.

    Steve, I just hope one day when I sell out I won’t be wearing and Handee Ultra cravat!

    Injeera,
    I will catch my White Whale one day. I’m pulling together an idea on a history of modern food. Watch this space.

  2. I’m pretty cautious about using the words ‘sell out’. Yes, it was a bit disappointing to see Marco cook risotto and pumpkin soup, but he was open and honest in that he was targeting time-poor families, and showing how you could freshen up a store-bought stock.

    Besides, once you say ‘sell-out’, you need to talk about most high-profile food personalities. Jamie Oliver ‘sold out’ to Sainsbury’s, Peter Gilmore and Tetsuya to Electrolux, Matt Preston to Handee Ultra, Curtis Stone to Coles and even dear old Margaret Fulton to Woolworths. If you compare Marco’s practical cooking with Continental stock to Curtis St0ne’s spruiking that you can cook dinner for a family of four at Cole for $10, who do you point the ‘sell-out’ banner at? I don’t begrudge anyone paying the rent, as long as they are honest and truthful in what they’re doing.

  3. Nothing says undifferentiated product like the words “brand ambassador”. Didn’t he also pimp Turkey Twizzlers for a while? Knorr stocks are a big step up. I also thought it was a bit strange that Unilever brought him out here, because apart from the hardcore food folk, I don’t imagine much of middle Australia would know who the hell he is.

    It’s a fascinating idea that big corporations are inviting along certain food bloggers to avoid the sort of scrutiny that they’d be placed under by mainstream journalists – and that there is a trust that bloggers are brand-friendly.

  4. Thats not quite what I meant Neil. On the video he is on PRA
    thats a mild sedative short for Public Relations Automatic.

  5. I’m with George on this one – sell out, no way. Marco has simply cashed in on his brand.

    Has anyone bothered to look at the video? It’s a dish I’d want to cook and would have absolutely no problem with using some jelly stock. Stock powders and cubes are in my pantry for a reason and don’t signal a need to attend confession.

    Marco is talking to middle Australia, to folk who most probably don’t make stock but still want to eat tasty food, to people who probably have more resistance to that chunk of celeriac than a bit of jelly stock.

    So he made some money saying it’s okay to use a certain product in your cooking. Big deal. But if he gets just one person cooking better food, his work here is done.

  6. Ed, MPW did do some mainstream media, but it was awful!

    I was given the heads-up that he was in Sydney & going to do Mastachef filming at a Sydney resto on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning MrsT turned on the TV for the weather/news & there was a promo for MPW, so I thought I’ll watch.

    So sad to see him cooking asparagus risotto (& forgetting to add asapargus) using that stock. The presenters seemed to have no idea who he really was & it was a very embarassing segment for somebody who inspired so many. No signs of Michelin stars.

    Sir Michael Caine made the right decision to break ties.

    Wonder if Mastachef will take on the new stock cubes?

  7. … and knowing his background was the very reason that I accepted the invitation – even if he was here on behalf of Continental … it was fantastic to meet him

  8. thanks for the “here” link but just a correction on perception Ed on two things. (1) probably didn’t know anything about him … absolutely aware of his background and purchased White Heat when it was first released (2) feel under no obligation to publish anything on Inside Cuisine even if I’ve been asked to an event

  9. I see it like this… both Marco and Bourdain are products of the mainstream food press. With each of them, first the newspapers and then television has found a never ending font of slightly edgy bad boy chutzpah that is irresistable to the hungry beast. Selling out? no just cashing in some cheap kharmic vouchers. Tony Bilson sadly fell to the temptation of swinging with the big bad boys. Gill just punched before the bell like all bullies do.
    Oh for some real couragous writing but of course the editors are handcuffed by their own corporate cuffs….. and lets not mention the subbies.
    Back to the plucking of the quail…..

  10. Sellout. Raging shame. Fawning. Raging shame.

  11. Nice one Ed and its good to see a lengthly post from youse. I agree with Bourdain, he is an icon. Sadly though, like many icons, his reality is a chasm away from our beautification of him.
    It says something about the neophillia blindsiding our understanding of his long reaching influences on the cooks today. Cooks that now are stars but who likey trained under a chef who trained under White.
    The Romans used to parade their defeated enemy generals and rulers in ceremonies of early schadenfreude and in this case, Knorr are the Romans. What a sad sight to see someone that was such a game changer pathetically singing for his supper like a shadow-puppet of his former glorious self. He looks defeated imo and a little uncannily like Andre the Giant in ‘A Princess Bride’.

  12. MPW still denies making Ramsay cry. I think the way he frames it is that Gordon “chose” to cry! Totally wasted on Sydney – @Gosstronomy pointed out that he was amazed at how many people hadn’t even heard of him. I’d love to read an interview between you and Marco. Or even Mr Ishii…