Marcus Wareing interview

Marcus Wareing interview

Marcus Wareing interview

The master chef tells Tina Lofthouse how lockdown brought his family together in the kitchen – inspiring a new cookbook, his admiration for artisan producers and his life in south west London…

When you are a top professional chef, possibly the last thing you want to do is cook at home. But for Marcus Wareing, the pandemic changed all that.

“I’ve never had three meals a day in my life and then the lockdown hit, all the family is at home, and suddenly it feels like you’re cooking and eating all the time,” Marcus reveals. “I might have cooked before at the weekends but this was quite strange – three meals a day, seven days a week, and so we all joined in with making our meals.”

“During the first lockdown, in particular, when it was hard to get ingredients, we looked in the fridge and the cupboards and made the most of what we had. Shopping became a once-a-week trip for many of us rather than shopping daily for what we felt like eating that night.”  Marcus says that this approach, which is perhaps how most of our parents had shopped, is far more frugal, results in much less food waste and is better for the planet.

It can also result in some delicious new dishes we may never have even thought of making.  The Wareing family’s experience has resulted in a new cookbook, Marcus’ Kitchen, with Marcus and his wife Jane writing down the recipes literally as they put them together through the pandemic. “We would experiment and we created some fantastic recipes such as a roasted cauliflower with a satay sauce,” says Marcus.

Their children, Jake, 19, Archie, 16, and Jessie, 13, all love to cook, too, and Marcus adds that it was wonderful when they took over cooking the entire dinner for the night. Marcus worked as a baker in his early career and has enjoyed passing on his skills to Jesse, who has taken on the role of the family’s baker. Meanwhile, Archie tends to be the breakfast chef, Jake is the meat chef.

The book is divided into quick recipes for when you’re pushed for time, weekend specials as well as tips on how to adapt the recipe to what you have and some handy techniques to learn. Marcus adds that the ingredients he wouldn’t want to be without are his seasonings and dried spices – and stock cubes. Something of a revelation for a top chef? “No professional chef makes their own stock at home,” he laughs.

The family divide their time between their houses in Wimbledon and Sussex. The latter has a well-stocked kitchen garden, a labour of love for Marcus, who is the son of a market gardener, and which proved more useful than ever in the pandemic when ingredients were short. The book reveals how to make the most of seasonal produce, with a winter favourite in the Wareing household being a braised cabbage in a warming broth.

The MasterChef: The Professionals judge, and chef patron of Michelin-starred Marcus at The Berkeley, says that cooking became a way for the family to unwind. “The pandemic has been a difficult period for everyone and, for us, we found that cooking was a nice release. It made life more fun.”

As restaurants were forced to close their doors, Marcus faced the same worries as chefs across the country. “It was horrible being closed. And you’re watching the stats on TV and you think, ‘when are we going to be able to do anything again?’ But as hard as that is, everyone’s in the same boat.”

It has been a rollercoaster for restaurants and their excitement at being able to reopen was shortlived, with the subsequent lockdowns over winter hitting hard. “The energy was amazing when we first reopened. And the atmosphere was incredible. The third lockdown was hell. It was tough. A lot of people left the industry and now can’t come back because of the restrictions. It has brought a huge amount of turmoil to every sector. But we manage our business accordingly with the team we have got.  It’s frustrating, as business has never been stronger. People want to dine out and I could open eight days a week with all the demand.”

Marcus’ restaurant The Gilbert Scott, at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, closed during lockdown but that was because of the planned end to a 10-year lease. “I had been there, done that, and it was great, there was never any aim to take it beyond 10 years,” says Marcus.

Marcus was also kept busy with filming MasterChef, which was able to continue through the lockdowns with social distancing in place. He says that the pandemic has made everyone reflect on life and this came through in MasterChef with many of the contestants looking in particular at their heritage and bringing this into their cooking. “It’s exciting when you see a chef that has lived here all their life bringing flavours of their heritage to their dishes.”

He also took stock in lockdown – looking at how to continue to diversify his career. “I’m 51, have one restaurant to focus on and have a whole new career in books and TV. I also have an apprenticeship scheme within the Compass Group, mentoring the top 16 chefs. I absolutely love what I do. I have achieved everything I wanted to and more than I ever thought I would.”

He’d like his children to work in the industry, but not necessarily follow in his footsteps. “I worked 16 hours a day, six days a week for 30 years. That’s not a life but it was my lifestyle, and I had been doing that since I was 14. Those are long days – everyone says it must have been hard. But I chose that. I’ve had a fantastic career out of it and have absolutely no regrets. I had that way of life before everything. Everyone knows me as a chef first.”

Marcus is a patron of our Food and Culture Awards, which champion local producers, restaurants and associated businesses. He says: ‘I’ve always been a huge supporter of buying from local businesses and artisans. South west London and Surrey has an incredible offering, and we need to ensure we continue to support local restaurants, chefs and producers who are at the heart of our communities. These awards are a great way to give them the recognition they deserve.”

Christmas for Marcus will be spent at home. His restaurant will be open so he will be available in case he is needed. “We have family and friends around – we’re like an open house. I like the traditional Christmas dinner with turkey. As the legs need longer than the breast, my advice is to take them off, roll and stuff them and cook them separately. “

And, of course, we must try his delicious panettone bread and butter pudding, which is a perfect example of the ethos of the new book, creatively using up any leftovers. “I’d recommend people always read a recipe book before they start cooking to get the ideas and stories behind it. This is my eighth cookbook – it is Marcus in lockdown and it is a totally different way of cooking.”

  • Marcus’ Kitchen, HarperCollins, £22.


Main image: Rebecca Cresta Photography