Retro Heaven

White Heat

Marco Pierre White photographed at Harveys Restaurant…

In 1987 an unknown young chef opened his first restaurant. Marco Pierre White who had worked under the biggest names in the country was set to take the food world by the scruff of the apron and shake it so hard it would never be the same again.

Marco was to British food what Hendrix was to popular music in the 1960s. There was nothing like him before or since. Like Hendrix, he was the man for the moment and the moment was waiting for a man like Marco. His peers tried to tame him, Albert Roux at Le Gavroche, Pierre Koffman at Le Tante Claire, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons and Nico Ladenis at his eponymous restaurant all knew that what passed through their kitchens could not be stopped.

The kitchen at Harveys was small, the equipment begged, borrowed and bartered. Marco lived and breathed Harveys, determined to make his name, he was the youngest chef ever to win two Michelin stars and the first British chef to be awarded three. He commanded fierce loyalty and respect from his team of chefs, they worked from seven-thirty in the morning until well after midnight six days a week. If they were lucky they managed a power nap on a restaurant chair or an hours fishing on the river.

The late and very great photographer Bob Carlos Clarke photographed Marco for Marco’s first book, White Heat, to this day one of the most important cookbooks of all time. Clarke shot in monochrome, he realised the intensity of the kitchen service and captured it brilliantly.

This book could never be made today, it was the first and last warts and all documentary of a proper working kitchen. Marco in real life was exactly as how he looked in print, knackered. Unshaven, scraggly hair, t-shirt and not a colour coded chopping board in sight and yet everyone wanted to eat his food, to be a part of something unique. It was a wonderful time to be a restaurant owner, everyone had money to spend on food and drink and chefs could take chances and experiment. It was unquestionably the most exciting time in modern gastronomy and Marco led from the front.

This photograph sums up the service at Harveys, Marco firmly in the middle of it all, next to him a young Gordon Ramsay, bollocked every night to breaking point, at the forefront is Stephen Terry who would be one of London’s leading chefs in the nineties and is seen here concentrating so hard, desperate to avoid Marco’s wrath.

That Marco sold a piece of himself to television is regrettable, he quit Michelin and cooking whilst firmly ahead and in doing so cemented the legend, it’s a pity the financial lure of advertising and reality television did much to undermine those glorious years at Harveys.


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