For or a chef, especially one who once held three Michelin stars seems relaxed. Minutes before 120 of Delhi’s finest people sit down to dinner with him at JW Marriott Aerocity, he saunters about nonchalantly, chatting up acquaintances, indulging fans with selfies, signing books, napkins and everything in between. Is he the handsomest chef to have ever existed? Probably.
There’s an army of chefs doing the actual cooking. Earlier in the day, Marco would have run them through the recipes. Now, he’s here for the conversation. And the man can talk. I had had a glimpse the previous morning when, over a languid masterclass, he rustled up a Spanish omelette exclusively for Outlook Traveller. A large knife in hand, he had a glint in his eye. There was less omelette, more oration. And we hung onto every word. (The omelette was to die for.)
Dinner kicks off with a choux au fromage, stuffed generously with 36-month-aged Parmesan. It looks simple, banal even, but tastes divine. As Marco would opine later in the evening, “with age, comes simplicity.” The cream of pumpkin soup that follows is uplifted by a garnish of crushed Amaretti biscuits. The main course is a toss-up between roasted chicken à la forestière and baked aubergine caviar with Italian mozzarella. Safe choices, dictated by Delhi’s culinary conservatism. I go for the veg option, a trickier dish which the kitchen clearly gets right, considering the aubergine does not collapse into a pile of mush. Going by the oohs and aahs that the chicken—sitting on a bed of peas—is met with by fellow diners, it’s possibly superlative. There are Riojas for our parched throats.
In 1994, when Marco Pierre White got his three Michelin stars at age 32, he was the youngest ever chef to do so, as well as the first British chef to hold the distinction. But the pressure of that world was too much for him so he returned his stars and retired. He had a second coming with a unfussy string of restaurants and a TV show. I have the privilege of sharing a table with him. There isn’t the faintest whiff of the angry-young-chef persona he built his reputation on. When I ask him to sign The Devil in the Kitchen for me, the devil, wearing jeans and T-shirt, tells me to ‘read between the lines’.
Dinner wraps up with my favourite dessert of all time: bread and butter pudding. There’s a generous side of cream. Serendipitously, it’s a dish I’ve been dreaming about for the past few days.
But it’s food for thought that everyone is really here for. There’s even a pulpit from which San Marco peers down at the electrified diners and shares a lifetime of culinary adventures and a few misadventures. Marco regales us with stories, including a meeting with Russell Crowe, where he discovered they both have the habit of stuffing used cigarette butts into their trouser pockets. In other news, Crowe is writing, directing and starring in a Marco Pierre White biopic. Now that’s something to caw about.