Marco Pierre White, Angel of the East

PUBLISHED: 11:42 22 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:53 20 February 2013

Marco Pierre White, Angel of the East

Marco Pierre White, Angel of the East

Marco Pierre White talks about his new venture with the Angel Hotel in Lavenham and takes delight in local produce and local Suffolk beauty.

To use an apt culinarymetaphor, Marco PierreWhite is a man with aseemingly enormousappetite for life. Grandpassions, big ideas and keenenthusiasms sweep him along throughhis packed days, creating a rich feast ofprojects and experiences.Right now, a new venture that hasclearly fired his imagination is theAngel Hotel in Lavenham, the Tudorcoaching house he acquired just a fewmonths ago.The occasional visit to see friends inSaxmundam and Peasenhall meant the49-year-old restaurateur probably amore accurate title than chef, as he gaveup professional cooking more than adecade ago wasnt immune to thecharms of the countys picturesquetowns and villages. But when he firstset foot in Lavenhams Market Place, hewas completely entranced.Like everything else in my life, Idiscovered Lavenham purely by default.I bought a business that was on themarket six hotels and this place, TheAngel, was one of them.Now I never, ever, look at a businessbefore I buy it, I never go to visit. Sowhen I came to Lavenham I was quitestunned, quite shocked by the locationof my new acquisition. I dont thinktheres a more beautiful square inEngland, is there? Its extraordinary. Itslike stepping back in time its sobeautiful and the countryside aroundhere, with its patchwork fields, oftenfeels as if it hasnt really been affectedby the industrial revolution.

An appreciation of the past was oneof the driving forces behind Marcosrapid overhaul of the interior of TheAngel. He spent a month just trying tounderstand exactly what hed inheritedat the hotel before summoning thebuilders.The most important thing to me is torestore as many of the original featuresas possible. The only thing that doesntdate in my industry is romance.Maybe in the 1950s and 1960s at TheAngel they just thought theyd had itthe same way for over 600 years andwanted a bit of modernism. But therewas a magnificent chimney that goes allthe way up through the building, andbeams that had been covered up. Iwanted to reveal all that again.Along with restoring thatbehaviour, he didnt want swearing and Ididnt want dogs sitting on furniture.Ive replaced the drinks with locallybrewed organic cider and lager Iprefer to give my money to the locals. Ifyou read all the blogs in the papersyoud see there were about 98 per centof people in agreement with what I did.Let the people speak.

A very mild controversy incomparison to a fair number of othersin his life if you take everything youread in the newspapers at face value.Hes the Godfather of moderncooking, enfant terrible of the UKrestaurant scene, rock star of theculinary world you can take your pickof these and many other well-wornepithets.Its true, of course, that a turbulentprivate life with three well documentedmarriages televisionprogrammes like Hells Kitchen and TheChopping Block, a series of influentialcookbooks and a characteristicallyfrank autobiography entitled WhiteSlave have all kept him firmly in thepublic eye.

But ultimately, its all about cooking.It was in the blood his grandfatherGaetano and father Frank were bothchefs. I came from a working-classbackground, in Moortown, Leeds. Forpeople like me, the rule was that if theold man went down the pit, you wentdown the pit. So if your old man was achef, the same principle applied. Younever questioned the old man.If a talent for cooking was in hisgenes, a capacity for hard work hasbeen the other ingredient in hissuccess. Even now, the pace he sets isrelentless.I dont work 9 to 5, and I work sevendays a week. My work is a way of life.Work is like a mistress to me I sneakoff and have my wicked way with theAngel, then I go off to The Pear Tree(another of his pubs, in Wiltshire).

Forarchitectural splendours, Marco hasadded plenty of other touches of hisown. He knew the outstandingnewspaper cartoonist Jak, and aselection of his works including somefeaturing Marco himself adorn thewalls.In addition, six sculptures of angels including a male one, St George madeby his friend Ivan Klep, sit in the pubswindows. Why give a name to a placeif it has no resonance beyond that? Mylogic is, when you walk into The Angelyou actually want to see an angel!Marco made some other changes toalter the culture of the pub that ruffleda few feathers. I took off Fosters andStrongbow. I didnt want laddishsome more! Im sure a psychologistwould have a lot to say about that. Ibury myself in my work, but its also aform of expression.I dont understand the concept ofholidays I never go on holiday. I refuseto take a holiday its just not the way Iwas brought up.If I ever wanted to go on holiday, Idgo somewhere in England its sobeautiful. Why travel to far-flung placeswhen you havent even discovered allthe joys of your own country? It doesntmake sense to me.

These days hes increasingly drawnback to his home city, Leeds, and thesurrounding countryside where heused to wander freely as a young boy.Hes planning a nostalgic trip with hisdaughter Mirabelle back to theHarewood Estate, which was just a 20-minute walk from his council househome.When I was growing up I felt it wasmy own private playground I neversaw any other kids, perhaps they werehanging around on street corners! Thegrounds of Harewood Hall is where Iwould do my fishing and poach somepheasants; thats where life reallystarted for me, down on the RiverWharfe.If I was spotted [in the hall ground]Id say I got lost. So Id be put in aLandrover and driven off the property and then, after being dropped off, Idjust come straight back!

When he wasnt engaged inadventures around the Harewood Estate legally or illegally young Marco wasscouring the adjacent Sand Moorcourse for lost golf balls. Here, heproved to be in the right place at theright time for an introduction to afootballing legend.I must have been 12 or 13 at the time,and I was hiding in the gorse bushes atthe back of a green. A lady wearing awhite blouse and red trousers spottedme, and asked me if the professionalhad sent me to be her caddy.I fibbed and said yes, the pro hadsent me. Thats how I started caddyingfor the lady. At the end of the round sheasked me if Id like to come and caddyfor her husband on Sunday, and I said Iwould.On the Sunday afternoon I saw herwalking down the slope from theclubhouse with a man whose face wasextremely familiar to a football-madschoolboy. He was Don Revie, LeedsUnited [and later England] manager,and the lady was his wife Elsie.I caddied for him a few times afterthat. He was very polite, very nice, andhe showed an interest in a young boythat not every golfer would bother todo.In those days managers and playerswerent the aloof superstars they arenow. Id wander down to the chip shopclose to our estate and Id see EddieGray in the queue. Now Eddie was astar, he was a celebrity of his day, butthey were very humble back then.Although he has an affection for hishometown club, hes actually anArsenal supporter (because his brotherpicked Leeds first in a Subbuteo gamewhen they were boys), and in recentyears hes also started to follow Chelsea where he has a restaurant inpartnership with good friend FrankieDettori.Football is clearly a passion for himand he talks eloquently andknowledgably about the game and itshistory. He recently enjoyed thedocumentary film One Night in Turin, astirring account of how England sonearly reached the World Cup final in1990.Bobby Robson was a great man andmanager, as that film demonstrates. Imet him back in 1993, and last year Iwas with his wife Elsie and her sons ata charity dinner in the North-East,where they gave me his autobiography,which was really nice.

Marco reconnected with hisYorkshire roots in a tangible way lastyear when he acquired a 50 percentshare in the Box Tree at Ilkley, therenowned West Yorkshire restaurantwhere his career effectively startedback in 1979.My first job was actually at the StGeorges Hotel, Harrogate, where I usedto polish clients shoes in the afternoon.One day I spotted an Egon Ronay guidenext to my chair, so I picked up andstarted flicking through it.I discovered that restaurants hadstars, which intrigued me, and also thatthe Best Restaurant listed was the BoxTree. So one day, not long afterwards, Iplucked up the courage to go and askfor a job and, by pure chance, I got one. The rest, as they say, is history. By1995 he had three stars of his own twoof them for Harveys (his firstrestaurant) in Wandsworth Common,London, and the other for TheRestaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel. Atthat time, he was the youngest chefever to have been awarded threeMichelin stars.In a Lennonesque flourish, he handedhis stars back in 1999 when hed retiredfrom the kitchen, saying hed given theMichelin inspectors too much respect.These days his perspective remains thesame.Theres more to life than Michelinstars. When youre being judged bypeople who have less knowledge thanyou, what does it really mean? If youvebeen voted writer of the year by agroup of judges who have never writtenprofessionally, well, it might sell a fewbooks, but, as I say, what does it reallyamount to?

His fervor for his trade is clearlyevident, none more so than when heextolled the virtues of the cookedbreakfast hed had that morning.Local bacon, local eggs, localsausage, local black pudding absolutely delicious. All from just a fewmiles down the road {the GippingValley Farm near Stowmarket}.Only the beef is not local, for thesimple reason that I dont thinkEngland can give me the quality of beefI want consistently, day in, day out whereas Scotland can.I will pay most probably 20 per centmore for it, but a steak is a benchmarkfor a lot of restaurants, in my opinion;the working man will put his hands inhis pocket a little bit deeper for a goodsteak.The professional cooking career mayhave finished some time ago, but hetakes the occasional masterclass forcharity, plus a charity cook about 20times a year for those in his industrysuffering from drugs-related problems.I dont miss cooking. When I was ayoung man, cooking was an obsession,not a passion. Today its a merely apassion.

When he finds time to relax, he doesso by settling down to play chess,dominoes or cards with his sons Marcoand Luciano. He doesnt have atelevision in the home.Despite occasional journeys toStamford Bridge, he actually prefers towatch football on TV in his local pub.You have the ambience of the ground,with a decent crowd, as well as beingable to watch all the replays, all thegoals from different angles!But the next project, the next idea, isnever far from his mind. At The PearTree in Wiltshire hes building a giantorchard with about 150 pear trees, aswell as developing wild flowermeadows.Finally, back to The Angel inLavenham, and he makes this pledge.Were not trying to be flash, and wewant to make it affordable. Well feedpeople at reasonable prices and wellfeed them well.

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