Marco Pierre White: even the cafe down the road is competition to me in Belfast

World-renowned chef Marco Pierre White was in Belfast yesterday to remind people of his credentials as the first overseas celebrity chef to put down roots in Northern Ireland.

Marco Pierre White spoke to News Letter journalist Graeme Cousins in the Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast yesterday.
Picture by Arthur Allison.
Marco Pierre White spoke to News Letter journalist Graeme Cousins in the Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast yesterday. Picture by Arthur Allison.

The News Letter spoke with the Leeds-born chef at his steakhouse in the Park Avenue hotel in east Belfast, as he discussed the ever-growing gastronomy scene in the country.

He said the reason he chose to open his first restaurant in Northern Ireland in the Park Avenue Hotel was because it is a family-run hotel which promotes family values.

He said: “When I eat out it’s in family-run restaurants. When I worked for the great Pierre Koffmann, Mrs Koffmann was out front, Pierre was in the kitchen.

Marco Pierre White had an animated chat with News Letter journalist Graeme Cousins. Picture by Arthur Allison

“When I worked at Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc was in the kitchen and Mrs Blanc was out front. It’s beyond service, it’s something that is so personal.”

Asked if he saw fellow celebrity chef Jean Christophe Novelli, who is set to open a new restaurant in Belfast in the coming days at the AC Marriott hotel, as an ally or a rival, he said: “Jean is a friend of mine. We’ve been friends for many, many years.

“But he’s in the Marriott. He’s over there, I’m over here. Let’s be brutally honest, even the cafe down the road is competition. Every restaurant in Belfast is competition. To think you have no competition is arrogance.”

He went on to give credit to one of Northern Ireland’s home grown chefs: “Paul Rankin is without question the gastronomic king of Belfast. He was the first chef here to win a Michelin star if my memory serves me well. The opportunities he has created for young men and women has been extraordinary. How the city has evolved in terms of food is in a large part down to him.”

Marco Pierre White in the Park Avenue Hotel. Picture by Arthur Allison.

Asked where his favourite place was to visit in Belfast, he said: “There’s an amazing pub called The Crown, that has got to be one of the most magical places I’ve ever walked into. Anybody who visits Belfast should go there.”

Since opening in October 2015 in the four-star Park Avenue hotel, Marco Pierre White Steakhouse has welcomed 50,000 diners. There was a full house for yesterday’s visit.

Of his role in his Belfast steakhouse, the 56-year-old restaurateur said: “I’m not here 365 days a year, but I feel that our brand is safe in their hands.

“In 1999 I announced to the world I was retiring as a chef because I didn’t want to be one of those chefs who pretend they cook when they don’t cook.

Marco Pierre White had an animated chat with News Letter journalist Graeme Cousins. Picture by Arthur Allison

“A chef is allowed to stray from the stage, but he must stay close to the flame. I chose to be a restaurateur.

“Along with my partner we create jobs, we’re in the business of creating a night out.”

Before my face-to-face interview with I’d been warned the chef, like many in his profession, could be temperamental.

Contrary to the warning, the man I spoke to was brimming with passion and a willingness to talk (well beyond our allotted 10-minute slot).

Marco Pierre White in the Park Avenue Hotel. Picture by Arthur Allison.

Among the tales he shared was the story of his friend Nicholas choking on an oyster which ended up projecting over a table: “He put his tabasco in first and he tilted it into his mouth. It hit his throat before the oyster did, and the reaction caused the oyster to shoot out. It must have gone three and a half feet. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in the restaurant business.”

After the interview I was treated to a three-course meal in Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse in the Park Avenue Hotel. Just like the interview, the food did not fail to entertain.

A pear and blue cheese salad kicked off proceedings – with the cheese coming courtesy of Blur’s Alex James, now an artisan cheesemaker.

For dessert I had a delicious chocolate mousse, and prior to that I defied logic by not ordering a steak in a steakhouse. The lamb was a fabulous understudy.