BBC Maestro / Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White

The renowned chef on how his more mindful approach to eating in lockdown led to a new cookery course with vegetables the star of the show…

Top chef Marco Pierre White perhaps isn’t the first person you’d think of as the host of a vegetarian cookery course. He has a string of successful steak restaurants and chop houses to his name, and his acclaimed book White Heat, about his life in the kitchen, featured Marco brandishing a meat cleaver. The original enfant terrible of the London restaurant scene, he was often pictured with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, looking more like the front man of a rock band than a Michelin-starred restaurant.

But he’s experienced first-hand some of the benefits of going not just vegetarian, but vegan – he says he lost over five stone, had more energy and slept better in the nine months he gave up animal products. He wants to share what he learned with both committed vegetarians and ardent meat lovers.

The online course, via BBC Maestro, is aimed at novices and more advanced cooks alike, and will show how to avoid the pitfalls typical of vegetarian cooking, as well keeping to a sustainable ethos, with minimal waste.

He says it was curiosity that led him to want to develop vegetarian dishes. “I had been cooking them for years, but always as a garnish. I wanted to transform them into large, wholesome offerings – the focus of the meal. When you show off what you previously considered ‘humble’ ingredients, they can shine.”

So, how will he convince the meat-lovers among us? “Ease yourself in with a comfort dish you already enjoy, like cauliflower cheese. My recipe for truffled cauliflower cheese includes deep-fried onions that add both sweetness and a crispy texture. It’s very simple and very quick but the final construction will give any meal a sense of occasion,” he says.

He adds that one of the biggest downfalls when people start cooking vegetarian food is that they just don’t invest the time or patience required. “It’s only by doing each step well that you can create the layers of flavours needed to make a dish stand out. When I make my vegetable lasagne, I always aim to have the ragù ready a day in advance. This allows the ingredients to mature and intensify the final flavours of the dish. Those attempting vegetarian cooking should also always remember to be generous, both on the plate and with the seasoning.”

His favourite dish from the course is the artichokes barigoule. “This farmhouse dish hails from the south of France and has rustic origins but, once you’ve tasted it, you’ll understand why it’s served in restaurants across the region. The recipe involves a technique known as monter au beurre [finish with butter] which gives the final dish a great gloss.”

While he loved the health benefits of being vegan, Marco’s approach to eating today is to enjoy a wide range of foods. “I like to maintain a mixed diet, tasting a little bit of everything. You can always adapt recipes and give them a new twist. You want to keep your cooking exciting.”

When he became vegan, he admits it was hard to give up all animal products. As to what he missed, he says: “Everything. I loved butter and used to regularly use clarified butter in my dishes. However, olive oil is now the one ingredient I’d take with me if stuck on a desert island.”

Marco, who has just turned 60, lives out in the countryside near Bath, developing his hotel, The Rudloe Arms, enjoying the outdoor lifestyle and overseeing his restaurants. He owns over 30 around the world, including Mr White’s, a new restaurant in Leicester Square.

At 33, he became the youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars.

In his 40-year career, Marco has honed the talents of other top chefs including Heston Blumenthal and Jason Atherton, and racked up a host of accolades. He left school in Leeds without any qualifications and started his career in the kitchens of the Hotel St George in Harrogate, then later at the Box Tree in Ilkley.

He left Yorkshire for London, arriving with little more than a box of books, a bag of clothes and £7.36 in his pocket. He trained in classical French cooking with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche and later went on to work with Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir and also with Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico.

In 1987, Marco opened Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common. He was awarded his first Michelin star the following year and his second in 1990. The restaurant became legendary, as did Marco, earning him the ‘enfant terrible’ label, achieving renown not only for his culinary genius but also his strong temperament. Both Phil Howard and Gordon Ramsay worked for him at Harvey’s. The restaurant later went on to become another hugely successful restaurant, Chez Bruce, under Bruce Poole.

It was in 1995 that he won his third Michelin star at The Restaurant Marco Pierre White in the Hyde Park Hotel London. By 1999, he had achieved everything he wanted as a chef and retired from the kitchen – and ‘returned’ his Michelin stars. He said he could do more in the world of gastronomy and inspire others by stepping away from the stove himself.

He spent his time with his family, and enjoyed fishing and shooting, and embarked on TV work with the likes of Hell’s Kitchen.

Marco has always been a busy man. I ask him what his dream day off would be… he doesn’t really do that, he says, and is always on the look out for inspiration. “I don’t tend to take days off. I once passed a docket spike in the kitchen stuffed with ticket orders and it made me think of a Christmas tree. That idea then inspired me to create the Mushroom Christmas Tree in my vegetarian course. However, I do like to spend time in the garden. If I hadn’t become a chef, I think I would have been a landscape gardener.”

Marco was born in Leeds to Maria-Rosa Gallina, who had come over from Italy and tragically died when he was just six, and Frank White, a chef. Marco has been married three times, and has four grown-up children. It is his family that he would invite to his ultimate dinner party…

“My family would always be my first choice for a dinner party. I would either serve something Italian, like a large bowl of pasta Pomodoro; or pommes boulangère – however, my Italian genes mean I would splash olive oil over the finely sliced potatoes and serve with salad!”


  • The Marco Pierre White: Delicious Vegetarian Cooking course is available at priced at £80 for lifetime access for 25 lessons and downloadable notes.