Marco Pierre White tells us why his new restaurant is for everyone in Abu Dhabi

We spend an hour with the chef at Marco's New York Italian

Marco Pierre White tells us why his new restaurant is for everyone in Abu Dhabi
Marco Pierre White tells us why his new restaurant is for everyone in Abu Dhabi Image #2

Marco Pierre White is a name that carries a lot of weight and expectation.

He was the youngest British chef with a restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars (at 33, for The Restaurant in London – he handed them back five years later), he trained under Michel Roux at Le Gavroche, and over the course of his own career White has trained a number of high-profile chefs including a certain Gordon Ramsey.

He was known as the ‘enfant terrible’ of the UK dining scene and has been painted as an explosive character. We have to admit to being a bit nervous about meeting him.

Now, decades after the Leeds-born chef exploded on to the culinary scene, the days of chefs whites and 12-hour days in the kitchen have been and gone, after taking a step away to “work on himself”.

We sit down to speak to the 57-year-old in his new restaurant Marco’s New York Italian. It’s his second in the city and second at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. When we meet, the chef is sitting in the middle of the charming dining room signing autographs for fans and taking pictures.

Not once during the hour we spend together does the smile leave his face, his enthusiasm diminish or his manner become impatient or frustrated. Instead, he enjoys a cold drink and soaks up the atmosphere in his latest venue, which overlooks the capital’s Grand Canal.

It’s only been open for a matter of days but the casual restaurant is already full of families, businessmen and hotel guests. It is awash with noise, chatter and the clanking of cutlery.

White says the casual nature of the venue is the key to its early popularity.

“Not every night of the week do you want a full-blown dinner in a restaurant. Sometimes you just want a drink or a quick bite,” he says. “When you go to a high-end restaurant, you’re told you’re having 12 courses, they partonise you and then tell you what the dish is, down to the seasoning, and then instruct you how to eat it. [By the end] you don’t know if you actually enjoyed it because the portions are so small.”

He’s on a roll now: “Chefs are geniuses. Modern day chefs have turned a canapé party into a dinner party. That’s genius, no wastage, no stress.

"It’s conveyor belt cuisine.

“[This restaurant] is for everyone, make your experience as formal or as informal as you like, expensive or affordable as you like.

“I’m not trying to impress people,” he says laughing, “I want to feed people and give them a good evening.”

Marco’s New York Italian is a different approach for the chef in the UAE, especially when compared to Marco Pierre White Steakhouse next door. Catering to after-work guests coming to the bar for a drink, guests out to celebrate special occasions and foodies looking to snap pictures for Instagram, it’s a versatile dining space and it’s already bustling with energy.

You won’t find foie gras, grouse or confit duck being served, either. It’s all about simplicity, with a menu offering bar food and appetisers, pizza, pasta, burgers and a few steaks thrown in for good measure.

“The spiritual pull in my life is to Italy,” he says (White’s mother Maria-Rosa is Italian).

“I love Italian food. I like the simplicity of it. A wonderful bowl of pasta. A plate of antipasti. Beautiful mozzarella. I crave ordinary in my life,” he goes on. 

“I don’t want to be impressed, I want to be fed, and there’s a difference.”

We ask for recommendations from the new menu and he smiles: “Customers dictate. You have to see where they go and follow them. What’s the point in offering a dish that doesn’t sell? All it does is get old in your fridge. The customers write the menu in the end and they know best.”

We’re surprised to hear a chef with such an esteemed reputation take a refreshingly laid-back approach to food.

While many restaurants and chefs are looking to innovate, create and present complex concoctions of ingredients and combinations, White is having none of it.

“I’m a classicist” he proclaims as another diner approaches the table nervously to ask for a selfie. “I’m not going to talk about the nonsense of gastronomy,” he continues. “There is nothing worse than peculiar flavours. There’s nothing worse than too many flavours. There’s nothing worse than serving tepid food. With many modern dishes it’s confused cuisine, there’s not enough garnish or protein.

“It’s designed for Instagram, they put more focus on the design than the eating and it’s all about eating. You can’t eat a photograph can you?
“The more you do to food the more you take away from it.”

Another fan approaches, this time for an autograph and Marco obliges with another warm smile and embrace.

We ask if he’s used to his celebrity status after decades in the business and stints fronting TV shows. “I’m not a celebrity,” he says, in all seriousness. “I wouldn’t want to be one. I don’t look at myself like that.

“I’m not searching for myself, I now know I’m accepted. When I was young all I craved was to be accepted. I never wanted Michelin stars, I never wanted everything that comes with it. I was flattered by it. I became known for what I put on the plate, not because I was on TV.”

White, it seems, is a man who doesn’t like to look backwards. “I’ve never been happier,” he reassures us. “That’s the truth. I now know who I am.

“In a kitchen you don’t grow emotionally. All your energy is focused into your food and emotional growth is minimal.

“I’m happy, very happy. I do things because I want to do them now, for the right reasons. I don’t need to impress anyone anymore. I can’t imagine anything worse than going to one of those restaurants where they tell you what you’re eating.

“It’s about [the chef’s] evening and not yours, so you’re paying for them to exercise their ego.

“For me, cooking is a philosophy not a recipe, unless it’s baking, then it’s chemistry.

“Everyone who walks through the door wants a different experience and I think restaurants should be multi-dimensional.

“I wanted to create an environment that was casual and affordable. Now it’s up to the guests to decide what experience they would like when they visit.”

After an hour in White’s company, we decide it’s probably okay to ask for a selfie. Ever the gent, he obliges. There’s no sign of the touchy interviewee we had read about during our meeting. In fact, it was all rather simple. Just how he likes it.
Marco’s New York Italian is now open at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Khor Al Maqta (02 654 3238).

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