Kathryn McKenna talks to Marco Pierre White as he launches his new summer 2018 menu at Park Avenue Hotel.
Having been the first celebrity chef turned restaurateur to set up in Belfast with Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse and Grill at Park Avenue Hotel, I ask Marco how he feels about the recent addition of AC Hotels by Marriott which boasts their first signature restaurant, Novelli at City Quays.
It also marks multi-Michelin-starred celebrity chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli’s Northern Ireland debut.
“Well, if you look back over just the short time that I have been here, how the city has evolved, its food scene is enormous and it is still evolving. But the man you really have to bow to is Paul Rankin. He was the first chef in Northern Ireland to win a Michelin Star”, Marco explains deferentially.
“What he has done for the industry in Northern Ireland is enormous and I think it should be acknowledged by the government. Just look at what he has achieved and what he has done, the knowledge that he has shared and the opportunities he has created - they are enormous.”
When I ask what spurred his decision to go from Michelin Star chef to providing food at an affordable price-point, Marco explains: “I like recognisable dishes, because it makes people feel comfortable. We have a cross-section of clients, some from overseas and some local, and we are in the business of selling a night out - not in selling a plate of food.
“People on the whole are quite straightforward. The most important aspect of any restaurant is the environment you sit in. You have to feel comfortable and relaxed. By achieving that, guests can be themselves and enjoy their evening. Secondly, you must provide service with a smile. It does not have to be the most technical service in the world, as long as you are friendly. Bring in very good food at a good price, and you’ll do well”, he adds triumphantly.
Asked where is his favourite place to eat is, Marco reveals: “I very rarely dine out. I always choose to eat in my own establishements. If I went to somebody else’s restaurant, then people would be saying, ‘why is he here and not at his own?’”
But Marco, who still enjoys cooking at home, enthuses: “Gastronomy is the greatest form of therapy. Any messes I am exposed to, cooking fixes it”, adding his top tip is to “keep food simple.”
“It is all about feeding people well and serving food hot. I like generosity. I hate small portions because there is never enough to eat and they are always served tepid. I do not like tepid food”, he says, in sarcastically stern voice: “It is all about eating”.