Style & Arts: TV Special

With Marco Pierre White on 'The Chopping Block,' the Heat Is Really On

"Most of my reputation is a product of exaggeration and ignorance," says Marco Pierre White. (Virginia Sherwood -- NBC Universal)
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By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009

Marco Pierre White, christened by the British press the enfant terrible of haute cuisine, the Byron of the Backburner, is coming to an American television near you -- but not to shout, not to swear and definitely not to throw dishes at his chefs. He's mellowed, we're told. Grown up.

Still, we wonder.

White, 47, the uncombed kitchen maven, debuts Wednesday as star of NBC's "The Chopping Block," a cooking competition in which pairs of contestants -- hubbies, wives, siblings and BFFs -- duke it out for their own Manhattan restaurant. Eminent food critics descend to pick apart their dishes and delivery, while White, brooding like a don in his leather chair, determines each duo's fate.

Long before chefs crowded America's airwaves with their Yum-Os!, Bams! and [Bleeps!], White was the original celebrity chef in England -- the culinary master and monster who transformed British cuisine and earned the eternal reverence of aspiring chefs everywhere. By 33, he was the first British chef (and youngest one from any country) to win three Michelin stars -- the industry's highest honor; a sex icon, to whom women sent lacy knickers; and an infamous boss who emotionally, mentally and physically abused his kitchen crew. The lore still hangs in the gastronomic ether: the whiny chef whose uniform White shredded with a carving knife; the too-slow chefs, whom he literally tossed into a big dustbin; and that other chef (we can only imagine what he did) whom White hung up by his apron on wall hooks. These are stories White himself told in his autobiography, "The Devil in the Kitchen."

"He'll just terrify the living [bleep] out of you, just by looking at him," says Anthony Bourdain, the chef-host of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations."

Our drama-loving American hearts are aflutter. But we confess, it's another claim to fame that makes us rub our palms together: White is The Man Who Made Gordon Ramsay Cry, according to his book and London newspapers. Ramsay's representatives in London declined to comment about the tale of tears, though Ramsay has spoken of weeping as being among the perils of working for White.

Ramsay is the rudest chef on television, arguably in the world, possibly in the universe. He's the blond browbeater on Fox's reality series "Hell's Kitchen," the snapping, screaming, seething disciplinarian who unleashes torrents of F-bombs on his fragile flock of quivering culinary contestants, who throws their poorly fashioned dishes all over their pretty white chef's jackets, who tastes their signature dishes, sometimes retching into trash cans. "You donkey!" he calls them. "Fat, useless sack of [bleepin'] Yankie Dankie Doodle!"

Yes, as the story goes, White made this man -- once his underling, now his nemesis -- cry.

We are impressed. Tell us the story, Mr. White. We reach for the marshmallows, settle in. This is going to be good.

"That was a long time ago, my friend," White says, curtly, over the telephone from London.

You don't remember?

"I'm being self-explanatory."

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