Marco Pierre White on Michelin stars, hunting, fishing and life in Hampshire

Photo by Katinka Herbert

Photo by Katinka Herbert - Credit: Archant

Marco Pierre White toiled tirelessly for his three Michelin stars. Still busy, not least hunting and fishing in Hampshire, he takes a more relaxed view of life and dining at his new inn


- Credit: Archant

“I don’t think of myself as a celebrity,” admits chef Marco Pierre White. “I’m just Marco. I’ve been around so long – I’ve been in the public eye for 25 years, and that’s a long time; people don’t look on me as a celebrity. I just like going to work. I like doing things.”

Marco is about to jet off to Australia to film a reincarnation of the brilliant MasterChef. For someone who doesn’t consider himself a celebrity, he’s never far from our television screens; whether it’s advertising stock cubes or on his own show on Channel 5, Marco Pierre White’s Kitchen Wars.

He’s a heart throb to many and practically incapable of standing still; fact is, in amongst his television work, he’s rather busy building his portfolio of Wheeler’s of St James restaurants. In Hampshire alone he has two; one in the north of the county near Burghclere – The Carnarvon Arms – and one in Yately on the Hampshire/Surrey border – The Casa Hotel.

Now 52, Marco hung up his chef whites a long time ago but he never forgets that it all started with a family tradition of cooking.

“I didn’t really have a choice. I came from humble beginnings in the north of England. My father was a chef, my grandfather was a chef, my uncles were chefs. I just followed in my family’s footsteps.”

Not only were they his inspiration, but he has also worked with some true cooking legends, namely the Roux brothers, Pierre Koffman and the loveable Raymond Blanc, “but the place that truly inspired me and was the catalyst for all that I have done up until now was The Box Tree in Yorkshire, where I learnt from the great head chef Michael Lawson. I also discovered that he had done his apprenticeship in the same kitchens as my father,” says Marco.

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After his stint working with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Great Milton, he opened his own restaurant, Harvey’s, on London’s Wandsworth Common. It was here that he gained his first Michelin star in 1987, then another the following year and a third when he became the chef-patron of The Restaurant at Hyde Park Hotel, at that time the youngest chef ever to do so.

“When you’re working at that high level, all your energies go into building temples of gastronomy and my dream had been to win three stars. After 17 years I had realised that dream. Dream done. So at 38 I retired.”

After so many years wining and dining the British public with Michelin star food Marco has changed tack.

“I personally believe the future of dining out is casual dining. If it’s a special occasion you will go to a much smarter environment, such as London’s La Gavroche (owned by Michel Roux Jr). The average person just wants to socialise with their friends and family, it should be casual, like in Europe. Sometimes in England we try too hard.”

So, what is his idea of casual dining?

“Choose your main course, be it meat, fish or poultry and bring a lovely salad to the table to share. Within five minutes you’re eating, sometimes you have to wait forever for your food, 40 minutes has gone by and you haven’t even started.

“I’ve got to a stage in my life now where I want to go to a restaurant and spend just an hour-and-a-half there. The menu means you can eat well but is at a price point that’s affordable, in a pleasant environment.”

This is exactly what he has done at one of his most recent additions to the Wheeler’s collection, The Carnarvon Arms. Positioned perfectly in the north Hampshire downs, it is already a favourite with Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose home is just a hop, skip and a jump away in Sydmonton.

Like all of his restaurants, it was important to Marco to make The Carnarvon Arms perfect: “I sat on every single chair in the place to see what the feel was like,” he says. “It’s that sort of attention to detail that I’m talking about. I want somewhere like an old-fashioned inn that people can come into for a pie and a pint in their wellies. It would do for me.”

Anyone who has already been to The Carnarvon Arms couldn’t fail but notice the eclectic décor.

“I wanted to create something where the eye is always amused. Art should be about what gives you pleasure. It’s about creating a feel, a mood that intrigues and captures people’s imaginations. I like eccentricities. I like eclecticism.”

As well as all the paintings, sculpture and copies of original artwork by the late Evening Standard cartoonist Jak, the pub is also adorned with stuffed animals and numerous assorted deer trophies and fish, some of which he says he caught with his sons.

Marco has two sons (the eldest is 20) and a daughter with his third wife, former Spanish bartender Matilde Conejero. His first two marriages were to Alex McArthur and model Lisa Butcher.

Local game features regularly on the menu (pheasant, hare and venison) and Marco does a bit of shooting himself, but is more into game fishing.

After reaching such highs in his career it’s hard to imagine Marco easily relinquishing control of his own kitchen. Every head chef is of course trained under his watchful eye but doesn’t he ever miss the cut and thrust of service?

“I’m not expected to be in the kitchen now. When you have three Michelin stars you have to be there for the customers, quite rightly. They want their dinner cooked by you. I would want the same, I want the chef in the kitchen. Nowadays I have the freedom to travel the world.”

It just goes to show that not all hard working chefs are tied to their kitchens. Marco seems to have found that infamous work/life balance we’re all looking for while still being able to feed us diners wonderful food.

Book a table: The Carnarvon Arms, Winchester Road, Whitway, Burghclere, RG20 9LE, 01635 278222


Marco’s Top Five

Favourite place to spend a quiet day in Hampshire? Fishing on the river bank – the river Test is absolutely stunning.

Which kitchen utensil could you never live without? My imagination, but often a sharp knife comes in handy.

Hampshire chef to watch? James Phillipson, 24, new head chef at the Carnarvon Arms. I discovered James six years ago. He’s an incredible talent and a calm, intuitive soul.

Your favourite Hampshire producer? Game features across all our Wheeler’s menus and Hampshire is renowned for its fabulous game and supreme shooting, stalking and fishing.

Best thing on the menu at The Carnarvon Arms? The Venison, locally sourced by myself or my executive chef Andrew Bennett.