MARCO Pierre White is known as the sort of man to be approached with caution.
The first ’celebrity chef’, his towering talent was definitely once matched by the size of his tantrums in the kitchen.
White’s personal life has also been turbulent. His first marriage, when he was 26, resulted in one daughter but was short-lived, as was his second to model, Lisa Butcher, and he’s separated from third wife, Mati Conejero, with whom he has three children.
Friends have turned into foes too. The severing of his relationship with his famous protege, Gordon Ramsay, was well-publicised, and he’s had spats with Michel Roux, Michael Caine and Raymond Blanc.
Yet, White is also a man who delights in being unpredictable, and, now, he is smiling and talking about how contented and at peace he is with himself.
“I’m nearly 52 and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and feel very comfortable in my own skin,” he reveals, with a broad grin and a definite twinkle in his brown eyes.
“Why is that?”
He gives an expressive shrug. “Well, I’m a man. It takes us time to get to know ourselves, but as you age you start to discover yourself more, you don’t get as excited about things as when you were young. You can see life for what it is. That’s quite a nice place to be at.”
Such contentment has long eluded White, who came from a humble background in Leeds.
He was the third son of an Italian mother but she died when he was six shortly after giving birth to her fourth son. He acknowledges that losing her contributed to fuelling his exceptional drive to succeed.
“I think it goes without saying that I suffered from losing that stability at a very young age,” he says. “But she was the person who influenced me the most and has helped to make me the man I am today.
“As a child, through her, I was exposed to beautiful things — to nature, good food, lots of love. When you lose someone like that, you hold on to the memories, they never leave you.”
After leaving school at 16, without any qualifications, White went on to become the youngest chef, at 33, ever to be awarded three Michelin stars.
Yet a few years later, at just 38, he hung up his apron, returned his stars, and left the kitchen.
Since then, White has regularly appeared on television shows, including Hell’s Kitchen, Marco Pierre White’s Kitchen Wars and Masterchef Australia, and is familiar to millions through his endorsement of Knorr stock cubes.
“Stepping away from the kitchen allowed me to move on in my life and gave me freedom for the first time in years,” he says.
“There’s more to life than a plate of food, there’s more to life than cooking. I wanted to travel the world, write books, be on TV. I decided to pluck up my courage, leave my status behind, spend more time with my children and change my life.”
His ever flourishing career points towards a level of fiery passion too. Away from the TV cameras, and since his Michelin stars, White’s built up a gastronomic empire and has a new TV show in the pipeline.
He denies he’s a workaholic, or ambitious. “I’ve never regarded myself as posh or a celebrity, I’m just a working class boy with a working class work ethic.
“I’m at an age where I want to give back. I feel I have a duty to share my knowledge and it’s a pleasure to do so,” he says.
“If you look deep within yourself you always find the answer to life’s problems. It’s all about self-discovery.”