White Slave, Marco Pierre White
The best way to read a book is to do so with no foreknowledge at all of its contents. Ergo, the best way to read an autobiography is with no clue of the author. Marco Pierre White may be a legend in culinary circles; he may in fact be widely known throughout Europe and the American capitals; hell, everybody in the world may know about him with the exception of this reviewer; and if so, the contents of White Slave will surprise no-one what-so-ever.
What’s more likely, however, is that large numbers of people will stumble on this book and be attracted by its noir-ish good looks and promise of a bad boy betwixt the covers. What they’ll discover is an asshole, a working class hero and the rudest chef in London. White is the precurser of Hell’s Kitchen’s, Gordon Ramsay and Kitchen Confidential’s, Anthony Bourdain and the absolute antithesis of a guy like Paco Torreblanca.
White Slave, Bad Temper
In an episode recounted early in the book White throws ripe cheese against the kitchen walls in a fit of pique, where they remain stuck through out the evening as a visible reminder of what happens if you piss off the chef. White doesn’t offer it as a mea-culpa, but rather as an example of a reasoned act by a reasonable man making a reasonable point. Bullshit. The non-acolyte sees it for what it is … an after the fact excuse for an embarrassing episode of lost temper.
Must a chef be a “cunt” (to use White’s own vernacular) to keep control of his kitchen? Are all 3-Michelin-Starred kitchens run in an equally abusive fashion? It’s hard to imagine.
Yet, it’s what Ramsay, Bourdain and others would have us believe and it’s rapidly becoming an acceptable truth. Good kitchens are run by abusive men.
It’s odd, this, particularly since White’s most informative sojourn seems to have been in a kitchen that was anything but abusive. The Box Tree was run by two gentle souls in the “sleepy village of Ilkley,” and it was here that White came into his own. And it was here, under the familial tutelage of the proprietors that he gained the confidence to become the chef he would later be. There was NO abusiveness at the Box Tree yet The Box Tree was succesful. One can’t help but wonder why, given what it gave White, the experience didn’t inform more of his future.
But then we wouldn’t have had Gordon Ramsey’s Hells Kitchen, would we?
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White Slave, Poor Boy
The Open Critic has come under some criticism for crankiness. It could come for our own inclination to shoot at shooting stars for reasons arising from our own damaged child within, but whenever someone gives an excuse mentioning that “damaged child” we start screwing the scope on the rifle. For chrissakes already … enough autobiographical moaning. When the damaged child thing makes it into the first paragraph of the publishers marketing it’s time to shoot. First, here’s what we’re shooting at:
When Marco Pierre White’s mother died of a brain haemorrhage when he was just six years old, it transformed his life. Soon, his father was urging him to earn his own keep and by sixteen he was working in his first restaurant. He would then go on to learn from some of the best chefs in the country, such as Albert Roux, Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann. He survived the intense pressure of hundred-hour weeks in the heat of the kitchen, developed his own style, and struck out on his own.
And this is why we’re shooting. White lets the fact that his mother died and his father was a taskmaster infuse his retellings beyond what’s required to establish backstory and motivation. What for some, may be a refreshing honesty, for others reads as excessive psycho-therapy. We do care that mum dies. We do care that it influenced White’s life and work. We DO however feel that the repeated expression of it gets in the way.
Nor, are we particularly convinced that White was able to put up with as much abuse in his early career as he did, because he’d already been to hell and back when his mum died and thus, could put up with anything. We all know folks who’s parents died as children and to this day are as fragile a broken grass. White was a tough cuss for any number of reasons. The analysis as to why only gets in the way. He just was. That’s enough.
(editor. what would be truly be refreshing would be for a damaged child to say some day … “hey, I’m no longer damaged, and guess what, I’m not a child anymore either!” But then of course we wouldn’t have one less marketing hook wouldn’t we?)
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White Slave, Beyond the White Slave
Of course White WAS a White Slave in many ways and the title is apropos. In more ways, Marco Pierre White was a free man. He was a rock ‘n roll spirit. He did live free. He placed his imprint on London and the world and the imprint continues with repurcussive effect years later. He was the guy we’d all like to be at our most laddish moments.
His is the sort of story we love to read about. There is just the right amount of violence, sex, money and celebrity to assuage our early millenial cravings for such.
White Slave, The Open Critic Verdict
Buy it. Read it. Remember it. Just don’t work for the man.
Reviewed / TP
TagsAutobiography, Book Review, Kitchen Confidential, Marco Pierre White, White Slave
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- 01.26.07 / 3pm