Marcus Wareing on cheffing, Bradley Cooper and family life in Wimbledon. Words: Sudi Pigott
If only every chef had Bradley Cooper’s incredible attention to detail in watching what I’d do at the pass, watching what I said and then just doing it, whether it is tasting the food or wiping the hot plate down. I’ve been trying to get chefs to do that for years!’ laughs Marcus Wareing.
We’re catching up at Light on the Common, a cafe in Wimbledon Village and Marcus is the most relaxed, self-assured and happiest I’ve ever seen him. He’s even impressed by the poached eggs – perfectly cooked and seasoned on buttered sourdough – we’re served (though the chef was quaking). It’s been a colossal year for two-Michelin star chef Marcus, who’s recently moved to Wimbledon after close on 15 years and four house moves in Wandsworth. Alongside mentoring chefs as presenter of Masterchef: The Professionals (the new series starts imminently), he’s been consulting on Burnt, a Harvey Weinstein-produced Hollywood movie starring Bradley Cooper, with Sienna Miller as sous chef, which opens on 6 November. The US chef Adam Jones destroys his career with drugs and diva behaviour, and needs to come to terms with his demons and redeem himself before coming to London to seek stars.
Marcus was involved right from the earliest stage when the screenwriter Steven Knight came to see him at his Chef’s Table at his restaurant Marcus at The Berkeley hotel. ‘It’s not often Hollywood comes knocking at the kitchen! We talked for hours about the life of a chef. It took about seven years to come to fruition and I didn’t believe it would ever be so huge – it’s awesome. I advised on everything from menu design to how the kitchen should be. Both Bradley and Sienna ate at The Chef’s Table. I showed her how to butcher and fillet. She’s really into cooking.’ Best of all, Marcus was asked to show Bradley how to give the kitchen a complete bollocking. Recalls Marcus, ‘Bradley acted it out so brilliantly that it made my hairs stand on end!’ He is adamant that director John Wells has even made him a better chef. ‘Watching him direct hundreds of people with calm precision, accuracy and respect has been extraordinary. It’s shown me a new way of communicating with my team.’
It’s fed into the way he approaches Masterchef: The Professionals too. ‘My job is not to break down or damage the chefs. Sure, I am there to critique but I want to send every one of them back to the kitchen feeling positive, even if they aren’t the eventual winner. I say the same to my sons. Be fantastic even if you find yourself in the B team and be successful. My approach is simply to be very disciplined and obsessed with striving for perfection.
Family is pivotal to Marcus’ life. ‘They are the centre of my universe and I ensure it works.’ He is determined to be around as much as he can for the kids, even though the older two are now boarding in the country: Jake, 14, is at Tonbridge, Archie, 11, at Ludgrove whilst Jessie, 8, is at Broomwood House. I’m bemused to hear him enthuse about the traditions of boarding school: masters in ties, calling boys by their surnames and tuck boxes. ‘I have to admit I am rather envious, I would have loved it.’
I’m not surprised to hear how competitive the family is about cooking: he reveals that the boys mark his and his wife Jane’s dishes! He is adamant her lasagne is far better than anything he could cook, and she is ace at salads, though he will criticise her seasoning.
Jane was responsible too for finding their new home. ‘She has an uncanny eye and knows exactly what I like.’ They considered a move to the country but Wimbledon seemed the right compromise, with its village feel and masses of green space. ‘The Common is fantastic for running. It is so huge I get lost there.’ Their home backing onto Wimbledon Tennis Courts is a spectacular new build. Marcus admits he doesn’t have the energy or vision to renovate. ‘Everything is in the right place and the kitchen is incredibly well thought out – all white with white granite tops and white porcelain floors. The garden has huge mature trees so it feels rather like being in the country.’ He is looking forward to trying Hotel Du Vin’s Brasserie, and is impressed by Bayley & Sage’s incredible produce.
Challenge is evidently key to Marcus’ make-up. He has also relished working on a TV series called Magical Kitchen for BBC4, due to be aired in the new year. Marcus worked with a scientist professor, who shows him how the flavour of food could be improved by understanding science. Experiments involved eating chocolate listening to different kinds of music and discovering how the mind overtakes the taste buds. ‘I discovered I was more of a scientist than I’d thought. I don’t think I will cook differently or be a better chef for it, but I will think differently.’
Meanwhile, Marcus insists that the restaurants remain centre stage. Ever honest, he would be delighted to achieve the elusive third Michelin star at Marcus, though is not obsessed by it and is totally thrilled that Tredwell’s has just been awarded AA London Restaurant of the Year.
However, his enjoyment of being at the coalface at the stove has not diminished. ‘I can understand why Hollywood actors like to go back to the immediacy of being on stage in the theatre. It is the same for me as a chef. I like putting on an apron, it gives me a sense of security, comfort and connection, and return to my core values. Hopefully, Burnt, the movie will inspire a whole new generation around the world to want to become chefs. That would be amazing.’