“Fingers are for burning.” Marco Pierre White’s iconic words of gastronomic wisdom were burned into my teenage memory while watching re-runs of Masterchef Australia. I’d crawl inside the blanket at 9 pm, every weekday, and gush over his genius and charm; my mother and I in equal measure. One can only imagine my delight as I stood, now in my 20s, watching the culinary behemoth cooking us a Spanish omelette. He chopped over a dozen potatoes and threw them into the deep-fryer, pointing his blade at the shallots next. His eyes remained on us but his hands had already finished a fine dice. His sous-chef pointed at the now sizzling potatoes and there it was “…fingers are for burning!”
I couldn’t help but dig a little deeper…
Why did you choose to become a chef?
The truth is I never wanted to be a chef, I never thought of being a chef. I wanted to be a gamekeeper, I wanted to work on the land. I wanted to be with nature. But my father was a chef. My grandfather was a chef, my uncle was a chef. I came from humble beginnings. In those days, you tended to follow your father's footsteps when you came from a working class world. It's as simple as that.
So, if you weren't a chef, what would you have been today?
There's no such thing as coincidence in life. Everything happens for a reason. So therefore, I don't question my life. And all I can say is I'm very happy I became a chef.
Do you think travelling has impacted your career or personal life?
Well, I never travelled when I was a cook. I was six-seven days a week in the kitchen. Worked 100 hours a week, sometimes more. But now I travel. I'm inspired by the world. I've removed those three-star blinkers. I look at life for what it is. The world is big, the world of Michelin is small. And in the end, you make yourself a prisoner of that world. Winning stars in Michelin is like having a chain and ball attached to your ankle. You wish to cook with conviction, because I was a chef who was always behind the stove. Always in the kitchen. I didn't travel the world because I had a responsibility to what I'd been given three stars in Michelin for.
How often have you travelled to India?
This is my third time to India. I first arrived last year in Mumbai. And a few months later, I went to Bangalore, and now here I am in Delhi.
How's your experience been so far?
I like the weather in Delhi, it's nice and cool. Some people would say cold, but with me and my northern hemisphere blood, it’s perfect.
What is one experience that you have had in India that you feel like you can't find anywhere else in the world?
Well, the Indian cooks fascinate me. No one understands the use of spice like the Indians. They've got this amazing understanding, it’s native. And it's not measured, just dropped from their fingertips. As I've said before, cooking is a philosophy, it's not a recipe. Unless it's pastry, then it’s chemistry.
Do you like Indian cuisine?
I love Indian cuisine. In England, we have some of the great Indian restaurants of the world. It's amazing.
If there was one dish that you would like to recreate in your own way, which one would that be?
As I said, I'd like to understand how they use spices. To have that understanding is great knowledge.
If you were to inspire someone to start cooking, what would you say to them?
People inspire themselves. If I think back to when I was a young man, people told me stories. And the knowledge within those stories is what inspired me. A story is way more important than a recipe. A recipe can confuse you. A story can inspire you. Remember, I'm a boy who likes stories. I don’t read. So stories, and the visual impact life has on me is what inspires me. That's what's important to me.
So now that you've travelled a lot, which cuisine would you say is the one that you like the most?
Well, all cuisines fascinate me. All countries fascinate me. The countries I like most, it’s because of the people. And that's what keeps me returning, it’s the people.
What would you say to your younger self today?
I wouldn't change anything. Make as many mistakes as possible. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes. As long as you take the knowledge from the mistake, the experience. Because you have to make mistakes to learn. That's called growing up.