Reinvent he did. Today, White is an entrepreneur in a Savile Row suit, the mastermind behind the $100-million White Star Line empire, whose assets include the London establishments Belvedere, L’Escargot, Luciano, and the Frankie’s chain of Italian restaurants.
But you still couldn’t find the guy with a sauté pan in his hand. Promoting his autobiography, Devil in the Kitchen (titled White Slave in Britain), in Chicago this past May, White reiterated his intention to keep his distance from the stove. “I can’t ever cook again, not day in and day out, not professionally, just to earn money.”
His 21 years in restaurant kitchens, he said, had caused a kind of social retardation and had kept him not only from getting to know his four children but from getting to know himself. (Not that he’s slowed down; he recently opened Marco, the Chelsea soccer-ground restaurant he named for his youngest son, and wrapped up a debut as host of the U.K. version of Hell’s Kitchen—known in the U.S. for the antics of former host and current White rival Gordon Ramsay.)
So what on earth is Marco Pierre White now doing crouched in a dusty roadside shed in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, stirring a pot of bananas and oats next to a grinning Rastafarian?
Back in May, the chef (who up until three years ago suffered from an acute fear of flying) had escaped from his book tour for a brief visit with his friend Gordon “Butch” Stewart, owner of the island’s Royal Plantation resort (as well as the more famous Sandals and Beaches).
“You can’t believe the produce,” White had gushed to me over the phone back then. “The trees are bursting with breadfruit and mango. All along the road, guys are carrying lines dripping with fresh fish. Food is everywhere.”
And so, five months later, here he is. And he’s not simply lying around on the beach. (In fact, says White, he detests idleness. “I don’t do vacations. Work, output, doing things, that’s what energizes me.”) Marco Pierre White has come to Jamaica to cook. After almost eight years in the wilderness, the man considered perhaps the finest chef of his generation has reemerged to develop a menu for his buddy’s resort. Assuming all goes well over the course of a week, Le Papillon, Stewart’s fine-dining establishment, will reopen later this year with a menu of island-inflected food and the name Marco Pierre White at the Royal Plantation hung over its door.
In rolled-up Levi’s, slip-on Keds, and a loose-fitting T-shirt, the six-foot-three chain-smoker looks on as the Rasta, Donald “Cereal” Brown, simmers a vanilla-scented porridge over a wood fire on the floor. As the concoction heats up, Cereal prepares his “magnum,” a thick tonic of banana, oats, sweetsop, peanuts, and malted soy milk. “When you’re having some sex,” he explains to his visitor, “this will give you extra energy.”