Marco Pierre White: giving youth a chance

Marco Pierre White's first venture into Sussex was at the Chequers in Maresfield. Now he's back for more and this time the accent is on youth

What is it about Sussex that so attracts Marco Pierre White? Only weeks after his Wheelers of St James opened at The Chequers in East Sussex he is back again, this time at The Kings Arms in Fernhurst in the furthest reaches of West Sussex.When he found out about The Kings Arms it evidently ticked all the boxes so he and his business partners Paul Clark, Jack Bowyer and David Butcher opened the second Sussex branch of White’s Wheelers of St James.He explained why: “Every week many things appear on my desk but very few of them capture my imagination. The Kings Arm in Fernhurst captured my imagination.“The simple reason is that I’m a big fan of West Sussex. I used to live in West Sussex just outside Petworth. I spent many a day on the Petworth estate whether shooting or fishing so I’m very fond of the area. It’s one of my favourite counties.” The first venture in Sussex, The Chequers in Maresfield, is the quintessential village pub, glorious and Georgian on the main street. The new one, The Kings Arms on the A286 mid way between Midhurst and Haselmere in Surrey is on the outskirts of a much smaller village and is more a traditional 1930s roadhouse, somewhere people  would motor to for a drink and a bite to eat.In some ways this means the potential of the West Sussex outlet might be more than that of the first venture which is already proving to be popular.Yet the most notable difference between East and West is when you meet the staff. Not that those in the East are ancient but at 24, the general manager Tom Downing and 21-year-old chef de cuisine Simon Lawrence are certainly young. This does not mean that either is inexperienced. Tom spent five years learning his trade at The Grand in Brighton and Simon started in the kitchen straight from school at 16, as did White.Marco is keen to give youth its head. He felt he had opportunities as a young man which he took and he wants to give others their chance. “If you’ve been given in life you have a duty to give back. If you have been given opportunity, create opportunity. If you were given a talent, share your talent. “There’s nothing nicer than seeing the young boys and girls working in the Kings Arms, working very hard and very long to create something special. Learning their trade, learning their craft whether they’re in the kitchen or out front.”He claimed his young staff were not overawed by him. “I’m just Marco. I’m very straightforward. Some of them don’t recognise me – it’s quite refreshing.”

What was it like?To try to compare the East and the West I had steak and chips, the same main course as I had in Maresfield. It was cooked to a turn as were the chunky chips. I would hate to declare a winner so I’ll sit on the fence and say both were great! I had quails eggs for a starter which were delicious and looked fantastic (see picture) and a raspberry souffl� for my pudding which rose before my eyes when the hot sauce was poured in – a real piece of magic on a plate.

Tom Downing, general managerTom spent the last five years at The Grand in Brighton where he started as a trainee manager. He was on his last day at the hotel before looking for a new challenge when Paul Clark rang him and offered him the job.He said that White is very interested and involved in this latest venture.“Marco’s down here a lot and we get lots of phone calls. I must get seven a day. “The other day he was in for lunch and he got up and went round the tables and gave them complementary meals so they could try things. They took photos outside. “A lot of people are asking is it just his name or is he involved. He is very much involved.”

Simon Lawrence, chef de cuisineSimon used to work with Marco at his pub in Berkshire, the Yew Tree in Highclere.He said: “ I started there at 16 and then after two years I went to South Africa for a year and when I came back worked at Windsor for six months. Then Marco called me to come and work here.“It was a privilege to be phoned and asked to do it. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t really miss.“You learn to know how he thinks and how he wants stuff.  He’ll change things and he’ll explain how he wants things done. It will be the same on the menu but it will be prepared a little bit differently.“You have to have respect for what he’s done. You don't mind him making the comments because he's been quite successful!”

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