In the past ten years or so now, television chefs have come along way. For example, back in 2001, Jamie Oliver proved that TV cooks could enjoy listening to the insufferably middle-of-the-road indie music of Toploader. He showed that cooking was as easy as inventing stupid new words, chucking a load of things in a pan and sliding down a spiral banister in your swanky East London flat.
Then, thanks in large to Gordon Ramsay, they became opinionated misanthropes who werenât afraid to call you a fucker or berate you for making crap food. Even the once alternative and cool Jamie Oliver jumped on the bandwagon to insult obese children.
These characteristics define many British TV chefs nowadays, including, I would have presumed, Marco Pierre White. You might remember Marco from Hell’s Kitchen, although heâs famous very much in his own right for having trained the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal. His new programme is uncreatively-titled Kitchen Wars and the introduction features the scraggily haired chef parading around the kitchen with knife in his hand, using it to point and prod at thingsâsometimes at people.
The contestants look genuinely terrified, understandably. When they called this programme Kitchen Wars, they werenât exaggerating, although the content is a little tamer on closer inspection. Itâs really a programme about couples. Couples that own restaurants, but who perhaps donât have the money to produce the same standard of cuisine that you might expect form a Michelin star place, like Marcoâs restaurant Wheelerâs of St Jamesâs. Incidentally, this is where I speak to him, and fortunately, for me, he seems far from the knife-wielding psychopath we see in the opening of Kitchen Wars. In fact, he seems wholly charming, which is perhaps why Channel 5 have him ear-marked him as the face of the channel.
âWhen I thought about, I realised that a lot of the best restaurants were owned by couples,â? he explains. âThatâs where the idea came from. Itâs not about belittlement. Iâm not there to tell them how to run their business.â? He smiles. âI might be a bit cheeky, of course.â?
This is true. Marco likes to joke around, which fortunately for him, sets him apart from other TV chefs. Kitchen Wars certainly has a lot more humour than, say, Hellâs Kitchen. At times, he sounds like impersonating Groucho, minus the moustache and eyebrows, of course.
I ask him about some of the couples in the first episode. They all picked quite ambitious first meals.
âWhen the couples start out they all try and impress me, which is why they run out of time and deliver bad food,â? he says. âBut actually, as it progresses, they begin to simplify things and the food improves because of it.â?
Marco even admits to letting his emotions get in the way of his judgment from time to time, but says that he doesnât worry too much. âI feel bad sending them home, but they know the rules,â? he says.
I ask Marco why he wanted to make a TV programme.
He looks serious. âI think that itâs good for the industry and it gets people excited about cooking. At the moment, there are a lot of young people who donât know what to do with their lives and I say to them work in a kitchen. Itâs a life skill, one that will always be needed.â?
I realise that I actually want Kitchen Wars to succeed, to make it. Marcoâs genuinely charming and funny. There is, however, one thing that makes him falter in my opinion. A lady in the first episode getâs very flustered speaking to Marco. Sheâs not sure what to call him. He seems to enjoy this a bit.
âSorry sir,â? she says. âI mean, chef. I mean, Marco!â?
I ask him about this.
âThey were a fantastic couple,â? he says. âShe was very nervous, but you have to be forgiving about these things.
I remember that I forgot to ask about the knife. What about the knife?
âOh, I take them everywhere,â? he tells me.
Thereâs a short silence.
Towards the end of our chat, Marco letâs something slide: he, perhaps very wisely, doesnât own a television. Iâm interested to know why this is, as the new face of Channel 5.
âBecause there are about seven people that I donât like,â? he says. âNow, why would I want them in my living room?â?
Thatâs a fair pointâ¦
âBut there was a programme I watched some time ago.â? He looks around for help. âDancing on Ice? It was dreadful!â? Marco looks over at the producer of his new Channel 5 programme. âItâs not Channel 5, is it?â?
âNo,â? they reply.