Meeting Marcus Wareing
As you may have read I’m not really an expert on food; like so many of you out there, I am just a person who adores eating lots of it. So after three months of waiting, when my exclusive interview with celebrated chef Marcus Wareing loomed, I lost quite bit of sleep.
This is a chef whose name when mentioned to other chefs caused them to lean back or take a step away from me. What is it about Marcus Wareing that makes him such a feared presence in London’s foodie circles?
I arrived terribly early and waited in the Caramel Room at The Berkeley, where I made the mistake of picking at the chocolate covered raisins served with my calming green tea. They’re actually chocolate covered coffee beans and I’m sensitive to coffee so much so that my step daughter and husband shout ‘Oh no! She’s had a coffee!’ when I indulge, then they hide.
It could be that I was rather nervous. Random thoughts kept parading through my head, and I couldn’t think of anything except Marcus Wareing telling me off.
“Marcus doesn’t really talk about his children, fashion doesn’t interest him; he will talk of the serious business of being a chef and running restaurants.” I felt the statement from his people ringing in my ears.
How many times can you ask a guy what inspired them? Having read through some past interviews, I found them all dutiable in delivering his competence, finesse, and serious chef side. He’ll be so bored of answering the same old question. What the hell was I going to ask him about?
Marcus, a slim, fit figure with piercing eyes and neat trim beard arrives at the table in a flash and extends his hand with a very warm smile. He asks how I am.
How am I? I thought. How am I? I didn’t have an answer. I felt my toes curling.
“I’m a bit nervous, I don’t want to ask any boring questions, not sure where to start.” I spurted in a wispy, muted voice quite foreign to my usual confident tone.
“Really?” He looked genuinely surprised. “Well I don’t think you should worry about it, relax, everything is going to be fine, we’ve got loads of time.”
I looked down at my notes wanting to be anywhere except for here. All of this because Marcus Wareing has such an intimidating reputation for excellence and I was afraid I wouldn’t make the grade.
I needn’t have worried. It turns out some reputations are exaggerated along the way, and though Marcus is certainly a formidable presence, and he definitely strives for excellence in everything he does, but my overwhelming feeling after the interview was how much fun he was to speak to. Read on and see if I’m right.
AC: Tell me about ‘Marcus’, your new restaurant opening in March, why the overhaul? Were there significant changes you wanted to make?
MW: It was time, I’ve been thinking about it for three years and now we are here. It was a real statement to name ‘Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley’. It really had to be named that way to fully establish my continuing presence and cement that fact after Petrus. MWATB was delivered in a style that I was used to doing and that our customers came to expect. I have a great relationship with The Berkeley and we knew the time had come to freshen up. Marcus is a complete change in that we haven’t put tables and chairs in the usual restaurant structured set up. We changed the dynamic. We have created a space that has flooring of carpet, wood, tiles and everything is handmade from the chair legs, tabletops and soft furnishings. The space is filled with reflections and images of London. It’s beautiful.
This is still a destination restaurant but I’d say the menu is much more me. In fact it is the real me, the real Marcus, who I am.
AC: What is a personal favourite dish from the new menu?
MW: Ha! That’s like trying to pick a favourite child! I can’t pick one.
AC: Why are all of your restaurants based in London?
MW: London is the best city in the world. It’s where I’ve had my opportunities, it’s been an organic growth here, we have a great life, my family is here, my work that I love is here, London offers me everything I want right now. I wouldn’t want to be too far away from my family or being able to deliver to my guests.
AC: Where do you like to dine in London?
MW: I like to pop across to ‘Dinner’ by Heston and ‘Boulud’ by Daniel Boulud. Both of those guys are fantastic. ‘Dinner’ is just delicious and clever, I love it. And Daniel Boulud is my favourite chef, he’s a class act.
AC: Would you open in Vegas or New York?
MW: No. Maybe in the future when I’ve built my team then why not? My aim at the moment is to open Marcus and work on my new project opening this year.
AC: What is it?
MW: I’m not telling you! But watch this space….’
AC: Which two restaurants would you like to get to this year?
MW: Simon Rogan at Claridges, our sister hotel, I’m looking forward to it opening. And Alan Yau has a new one opening this year. I love Chinese food and I find his restaurants interesting. He is always up to something!
AC: What is the one cooking technique that everyone should know?
MW: There are just so many techniques, but as a basic I’d say you’ve got to learn to season while you’re cooking, not after. It is really important because flavours enhance during the cooking process
AC: What ingredient will be trending next year?
MW: No idea, but I will say that in terms if ingredients that ‘less is more’ this time round. Some chefs try too hard. Great dining is leaving your guest with a great experience, not too full. It’s so uncomfortable trying to eat when you’re stuffed straight after a starter. It’s up to the customer if they want to gorge themselves with 18 courses, but if you’re delivering a starter, make it the right size.
AC: I am always looking for Chef de Parties for my clients but they seem to want to shoot up the ladder so quickly. Why?
MW: Ambition but it can sacrifice real skill. I would say learn the trade, learn the position, learn what it is to do that job whether it is commis, chef de parties, or any level. What I’m looking for is someone learning the trade at the level they’re at. Be patient. Believe me at sous level it is a different ball game, it becomes man management, problem solving and figures. You stop learning the cooking. Learn everything you can in the position you’re at.
AC: When we are all enlightened in two hundred years will we be vegetarians?
MW: No chance! You’re not a vegetarian are you?! That will not happen!
AC: Name a dish that defines your childhood and when you left home.
MW: Roast lamb. Every Sunday without fail there was a roast on the table. Then during University life it was lasagne. A real comfort food for me. I still enjoy it. Now I like simple and quality food, like a good steak with a glass of Bordeaux.
AC: If you had to take a ready meal out of your cupboard what would it be?
MW: Well particularly after a really cold, rainy, windy football session with the boys it would have to be Heinz Tomato soup or Heinz Baked Beans. Love them. You can’t beat it!
AC: Do you watch food TV?
MW: Not really, we have such busy lives. I enjoy running restaurants, I wake up and I look forward to going in to my job. I never want to get up and not go to work. I am full of energy as I was when I started and I’m 43 and that energy and love for what I do is still there. I’m not a TV person. It doesn’t motivate me.
AC: Do you bake with your kids?
MW: We do loads with the kids. They are in a good position and we let them know they are lucky. We didn’t grow up like them. Jane pushes all of the kids to do everything they can to the best of their abilities whether it is playing musical instruments, sports or homework. Jake, my eldest, loves baking. He’ll get a cook book out and get involved but he really does everything. Cricket, swimming, football and rugby. He asked to learn skiing so I took him to Mont Blanc last year. It was really challenging but now I can ski. We are going again at half term.
AC: With that new found interest you must have watched the Jump? Those people were crazy!
MW: I didn’t really have time as I’m working or with the family but I caught some bits and those people taking part were bloody brave! I’d love to give a few of those challenges a go; the bobsleigh, skeleton, grand slalom…
AC: What is on your iPod?
MW: I don’t have an iPod but I absolute love LBC radio and Nick Ferarri is a great host, it is confrontational, they get deputy prime ministers on and people like Boris Johnson, he’s an intelligent man.
AC: So Boris not Ken?
MW: Definitely Boris, he’s got some personality. Ken Livingstone is a bitter failure, he wants everyone to be the same, earn the same. Ambition is so important. Earning more in certain jobs, when you work in a certain field, that’s life. Some people will be richer than others it’s the way of the world. Not everyone can be equal in that sense. Ken wants robots and to crush human nature. He doesn’t want people to grow.
AC: Can I quote you on that?
MW: Fucking right you can! People don’t like it but we wouldn’t be here with these opportunities if it weren’t for Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair was never labour, it’s why he called it New Labour.
AC: What are your ambitions now? You’ve done it all haven’t you?
MW: No. I will always be growing. I like youth. I try to support youth. I surround myself with smart, young, hard working people. They are the future. They are my future. Daniel Boulud cannot be in all of his restaurants but he has teams that can deliver his excellence. In the future I’d love to grow a group outside of what I’m doing now on high street. I like to change dynamic as we’ve done with ‘Marcus’. I couldn’t care less if I had one restaurant or 10 as long as I’m able to deliver, to get on with my work, with my team.
AC: What football team do you support?
MW: Liverpool FC. Naturally. Do you like football? What’s your team?
AC: Nope. But the person who introduced me to football is a MAN UTD supporter so I have to stick with that.
MW: Fair enough but they’re going down. It’s a shame, they’re a good team but without Alex Ferguson they’re lost. Alex Ferguson was the only other inspiration to me outside of the kitchen. He took no shit. He was consistent. He delivered for over 25 years. Everyone in the dressing room was treated as an equal. He was a great leader and a great manager.
AC: We were told you’re not really in to fashion but I saw you at The Gilbert Scott in a stunning suit. Do you have a tailor or are they off the peg?
MW: Pogson & Davis are the guys that I go to for a bespoke, made to measure suit. It is a luxury I enjoy but from the high street I love Hackett, they use great material and I think Ted Baker are very good. I only really shop twice a year, when I’m buying a birthday or Christmas present for my wife otherwise Jane is brilliant at getting me sorted. I love when my wife buys something a little different, it gives me an excuse to wear something I wouldn’t usually.
AC: Exercise your flamboyance?
MW: Exactly. A lot of men would like it I think, the wonderful excuse to try something new and say ‘my wife thinks I look good in it’.
AC: What have you done that no one would have expected you to do? Any naked trampolining?
MW: Hahaha! Not yet!
Watch this space, I guess! Well that is something to think about and I think I’ve exhausted my list of questions. I do feel quite elated having got to the end of the dreaded Q&A and that really is down to Marcus, I felt his effort when he saw me uncomfortable and we had a great chat rather than a stiff interview. I can’t see where his reputation for not having a sense of humour may have come from. His language is very lightly peppered with expletives, he has the elegance and laid back cool of a man completely in charge. Marcus is undoubtedly focused, open and honest. His eyes light up when he talks about his wife and his smile widens when he mentions his children. He is great company and dare I say it, rather opinionated fun. I’d love to see him weigh in on Newsnight!
Article first seen in Issue Four of My London Lifestyle Magazine.