Away from his duties as a restaurateur and judge on MasterChef: The Professionals, the Michelin-starred chef is getting back to nature growing his own ingredients on a smallholding in East Sussex

He’s the chef who’s worked with all the greats including Albert Roux and Gordon Ramsay, earning a Michelin star – or two! – along the way.

Marcus Wareing, who met his wife Jane working at Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead, is a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals, owns three restaurants Marcus at The Berkeley hotel, Knightsbridge, The Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel and Tredwell’s in Covent Garden, and now has a smallholding in East Sussex.

It's here that his endeavours to grow his own produce – with the help of trusted gardener Anatoli – are the focus of his BBC Two show Marcus Wareing’s Tales From A Kitchen Garden.

Now about to start its second series, the hit programme shows the son of a fruit and potato merchant from Southport, Merseyside, stepping up his plans for his kitchen garden, and introducing even more livestock to his small holding to join the chickens, pigs, longhorn cows and Lonk sheep he bought last year.

Inspired by ingredients from his farm and the local area, the Michelin-starred chef will cook dishes that show off the very best of British and Sussex produce.

Here, Marcus, 53, takes time out of his very busy schedule to talk to Sussex Life editor Karen Pasquali Jones about life on his farm…

Great British Life: The Michelin-star chef loves life - and cooking - on his Sussex small holdingThe Michelin-star chef loves life - and cooking - on his Sussex small holding

On MasterChef; The Professionals sometimes your face is a picture as you watch the chefs fall apart butchering a chicken or cooking a steak in the dreaded skills test. Are you shocked by some of the rookie mistakes they make?

I think it’s more annoyed than shocked as nothing shocks me anymore. But you have to consider it’s their nerves taking over which makes their brain turn to jelly. Usually, once the skills test is over, their nerves go, and we see how good they really are.

You’ve bought a small holding in East Sussex but you’re a little cagey about the exact location. Why is that?

It’s my family home which is why I never give away exactly where it is, but it is in East Sussex near Tunbridge Wells. I have a 65-acre smallholding, orchard and kitchen garden. My wife, Jane, and I wanted to send our three children [Jake now 22, Archie, 19, and Jessie, 16] to school outside of central London and we knew this was a beautiful part of the world. I used to work at Gravetye Manor near East Grinstead which is where I met my wife [he was second chef and she worked on reception]. They have the best kitchen garden – it is so inspirational - but I never went in it when I was there. Growing and using your own ingredients just wasn’t the done thing then.

Everyone seems to be trying their hand at living in the countryside and getting back to nature – we had Gordon with his pigs in The F-Word and Jeremy Clarkson with Clarkson’s Farm. Did they inspire you?

(Laughs). Not at all. Gordon’s pig wasn’t on a farm, it was in his back garden, and we bought our small holding seven years ago this month (subs note: October). I never follow anyone. I wanted to make a different type of TV programme to MasterChef: The Professionals and my smallholding came up in conversation and that’s how it all came about. Before, I never wanted to know where the food I cooked with came from – I just bought it from a reputable supplier. It was high quality, but I didn’t know its provenance. Now I’m learning everything I can about what to grow and how to get the best from the land. The thought process of the garden chain changes the way you think and cook and the way you eat food as well. And I've never had that experience before. It has made me a better chef and a better cook.

What is the biggest difference between living in Sussex compared to London?

Here people care about saying hello and good morning. London can be cold and indifferent at times. I’ve lived and breathed London all my working life so when I go to my smallholding and farm I’m decompressing and getting rid of all the toxins from London as soon as I cross the gate. I still have a house in London but we divide our time between the two. We have animals and the land here, and even beehives, so we can’t just leave it – this place has a pulse.

Great British Life: Marcus cooks with ingredients he has grown himself. (c) BBCMarcus cooks with ingredients he has grown himself. (c) BBC

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made so far?

Trying to be too perfect but then I learnt about rewilding. I went to Knepp Estate [read our interview with Knepp’s owner Isabella Tree on page XX] and was blown away by the things I saw there. It’s incredible. Rewilding is sharing what you have with wildlife and allowing nature in; not using pesticides or trying to beat nature back. It changed my way of looking at things. It drives [gardener] Anatoli insane but I don’t want to see mesh fencing up to stop a couple of deer eating the lettuce. If a deer eats one, then that’s OK. I am very relaxed about it.

Would you like to have been a farmer?

No, with hindsight I’d have liked to have worked with my dad and carried on the family business. He was a potato merchant and was a wholesaler, going round getting the best produce at the best price and selling it on.

You worked with Gordon Ramsay at multiple restaurants and were in business together before famously falling out. [The two had a disagreement which ran into years of litigation over the Ramsay-owned restaurant Petrus where Marcus was head chef. Ramsay moved Petrus from The Berkeley to Belgravia and Marcus took over the lease of the site. The pair haven’t spoken since.] Does it frustrate or annoy you that you’re always asked about him like I’m doing now?

That was a colossal chunk of my life and I don’t want it to be erased so I can’t beat around the subject as we were in business together for 20 years.

So do you see a time when you can put it all behind you and be friends?

The chances of seeing Gordon are very unlikely. We are two different people but I wouldn’t be here without working alongside that man. You can’t not admire the ambition, and that’s what he was about, and we all feed off that level of inspiration. I wouldn’t wind back the clock or change a thing.

You were the consultant on Burnt, the movie starring Bradley Cooper as a top American chef, who’s also a recovering drug addict, trying to earn a three-Michelin-star rating in London. How difficult was it to train him and could he cook at the end of it?

Bradley has just finished filming American Sniper when he arrived, so he was a big guy, pumped up and still in the ‘soldier’ character. I taught Sienna Miller, who was also in Burnt, and she really wanted to learn but I would show Bradley something once and he just became the actor and copied what to do. He just does it – I didn’t teach him anything. He knew how to cook sauces, steak and understood it. He's fabulous.

Your wife says you’re a clean freak – why is that?

You have to be as a chef. If you work dirty and have an untidy bench then the rest of the kitchen will do the same, and it will affect everything. Being organised and clean is important – it shows respect for the food.

Great British Life: It can be scary being in charge of livestock and land. (c) BBCIt can be scary being in charge of livestock and land. (c) BBC

You keep chickens, pigs, sheep, ducks, and cows on your smallholding – has that affected how you think about eating meat?

They’re not pets. I haven’t given them names. They’re all part of the circle of life and they are part of what we eat. I’m not about to become a vegetarian or vegan.

If I turned up unexpectedly at your house, what would you cook?

My wife is very good at cooking Indian. I like cooking Chinese or making a great roast dinner with lamb or beef. I love cooking on wood so it could be meat and salads. You can’t go wrong with a great apple or pear tarte tatin. You can make it the day before, warm it up and then serve it with ice cream or custard on the side.

Can your kids cook and would you want them to work in the industry?

Yes all three of them can cook. We really got into cooking together during lockdown and they all have their specialities. But mostly it’s me or Jane cooking and if they want to criticise dinner then they can cook it themselves!

Finally, what’s your favourite thing to do in Sussex?

I love community gardens – people open up their gardens so we go to see them. There are some lovely places to walk near us. We’re spoilt for choice.

Marcus Wareing’s Tales from a Kitchen Garden is available on BBC iplayer.