Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White talked gardening, pork pies and guinea fowl when he visited his Sheffield restaurant and shook hands with fans.
The world-renowned chef spoke about the challenge of making a success of Marco’s New York Italian on West Bar Green, Sheffield city centre – one of a chain of internationally-recognised restaurants he has across the country.
He said: “It’s going very, very well actually. It sort of defies gravity in many ways because it’s not in a prime position.
“The people of Sheffield are no different to the people of Leeds, or Manchester or Liverpool or Birmingham. They still want to go out and have a good evening and they still want to eat well at a fair price, in glamorous surroundings.
“We’re all the same.”
Marco opened his first restaurant in 1987, the beginning of a career in which he would accrue a pile of Michelin stars – before hanging up his apron to become a restaurateur in 1999.
Despite his expertise in the kitchen, Marco insists he enjoys simple food.
“I just like straightforward. I like going home and having a ham sandwich with piccalilli.
“I like shepherd’s pie. I’m no different to anybody else.
“A warm pork pie with mushy peas and mint sauce is Yorkshire’s contribution to the world of gastronomy.”
When not in the kitchen, Marco says gardening has become his favourite pastime – but refused to be drawn on any celebrity mishaps involving his geese.
He added: “I’m not in the business side of things. I don’t do that because that’s not my strength, so I tend to do all the other stuff. My favourite pastime is gardening. I’ve got a very large garden in one of my hotels which takes up a lot of my time.
“I’ve got lots of hens, chickens, doves and peacocks and guinea pigs.
“I have three very naughty geese who have been known to be over-friendly with clients. It’s quite intriguing to watch.
“I would never grass up my clients. I know some restaurateurs telephone the press, but not me.
“I just crave ordinary now in my old age. I like being in my garden with my pets, and my vegetable garden and my rose beds which are rather beautiful.”
The famous chef, originally from Leeds, has presided over a menu featuring smoked mackerel pate, crab and king prawn linguini, Italian lamb stew served with polenta and anchovy fritters, tiramisu and limoncello posset served with shortbread biscuits.
But he says the restaurant scene has changed – and so have the people who enjoy it.
“People are more aspirational. If I think of the world I came from, a humble world, we never went to restaurants. Going to the pub in the summer for an orange juice was a treat.
“But the working man is aspirational now and he wants more out of life. He wants to buy a house, he wants to buy a car, he wants to go abroad for his holidays.
“He wants to dine in restaurants. I think modern man – man being man or woman – wants more out of life and wants to enjoy life more.
“What’s important is to make things affordable.
“I would always say the most important aspect of any restaurant is the environment you sit in. And then the service. And then the food.
“So if you do it in that order, you’ve got to feel comfortable in that environment. If you don’t feel comfortable, no matter how good the food is, you won’t go back. You want service which is friendly with a smile.
“And then you want food of a good standard at a price point. We’re in the business of selling fun.
“People of Sheffield are no different to the people of London. They want a night out, they want to enjoy themselves and they want value for money.”
Despite owning a chain of restaurants, Marco insists he is never tempted to check out the competition.
“I don’t let my insecurities get the better of me. I’m a great believer in suppressing them.
“If you allow your insecurities to get the better of you, they will take you over.
“I don’t feel stress. Something you’re taught from a very young age in the kitchen is how to absorb stress. ”