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Marco Pierre White: Food world's first 'rock star'

March 11, 2009 |  9:12 am

WhiteNBC’s new cooking competition, “The Chopping Block,” bills Marco Pierre White as the world’s greatest chef.

There’s just one problem. Fool about a bit on Google and similar superlatives are bestowed upon the likes of Ferran Adria. Thomas Keller. Guy Savoy. Joel Robuchon. Paul Bocuse. And even Gordon Ramsay, who famously trained under White.

Some say the highest film achievement is an Oscar. Journalism has the Pulitzers. Science has the Nobels. The food world, however, lacks a single unified voice that bestows such a crown as “the world’s greatest chef.” (Granted, Michelin stars are an excellent place to start, and White was the first British chef and the youngest chef ever to nab three of ‘em.)

Asked during a media conference call whether he deserved the NBC billing, White said, simply, “no.”

There is no doubt, however, that White’s influence is felt worldwide, said Anthony Bourdain, chef, author and star of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations.” Bourdain said White’s art-book-cookbook “White Heat” helped Bourdain define his own career by throwing old definitions about chefs and cooking out the the door –- and turned White in the food world’s first “rock star.”

" 'White Heat'  changed everything for me,” Bourdain said. “He just brought a passion, an intensity, that you never saw before. He made it OK to be that passionate about food and cooking.”

That passion is evident in “The Chopping Block.” (Read the review by Times TV critic Robert Lloyd here.)

There is a scene early on where White demonstrates seared halibut with tomatoes, and his masterful command of the kitchen is stunning. But it is the contestants’ passion that will separate “The Chopping Block” from the rest of the cooking-competition shows, White said.

“The Chopping Block” is not about challenges, punishments and rewards, White said: It’s about
giving couples insight into the cut-throat restaurant world. And if they still decide to pursue a restaurant after that, they do so with their eyes wide open, he said.

White says that the most telling part of the show comes when contestants find themselves on “The
Chopping Block,” facing elimination. What they do there, how they react, and whether they turn
on each other, determines whether they go home.

He said his goal was to enrich contestants' lives. "When it's time to go, walk away
gracefully, with your head high, and you’ll be a winner.

“All I wanted them to do was enjoy the ride,” said White, adding, “I could never teach
someone to cook three-star food; I could only teach someone three-star discipline.”

--Rene Lynch

Photo:  Virginia Sherwood / NBC