‘In truth I’m more of a restaurateur now than a chef,’ says two Michelin-star chef Marcus Wareing, a man who has one eye on his culinary empire and the other on achieving that increasingly tricky work/life balance
It’s a Monday morning at Marcus, the two Michelin star restaurant, situated at the elegant Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge. Amid the restrained clamour of the kitchen staff getting ready for a busy lunchtime service, owner and Head Chef, Marcus Wareing is in an ebullient mood.
Dressed in a sharp suit, he is happy to leave his well trained staff to the day’s service, while he ruminates on his burgeoning career as chef, restaurateur, businessman and TV star. At 45, he is Head Chef and owner of Marcus, The Gilbert Scott in King’s Cross and Tredwell’s in Covent Garden. He is a familiar face in London’s top restaurants but is also equally famous these days for his starring role in popular TV series, MasterChef: the Professionals.
‘In truth I’m more of a restaurateur now than a chef,’ says Wareing. ‘I’ve moved away from cooking daily and I’m planning ahead. I’m 45 and think of my life in 5 year stages. I set myself goals and my aim when I opened this restaurant was to get to the stage where I became a restaurateur.’
Always confident in his own abilities, Wareing had always harboured an ambition to set up on his own. ‘I wanted to run my own restaurant but in a different way,’ he says. ‘When you begin something in a recession like I did, the only thing you can do is be very methodical in everything you do. I’m still like that, but since 2008 I have built a team around me that can run the restaurants with or without me, and this has given me the time and space to move on from being just a chef.
‘I have been in kitchens now for 33 years. It’s a long time. I have done my apprenticeship on the stove and I don’t want to be like other chefs in the industry where they are in their 50s and 60s and still doing lunch service.’
Holding on to two coveted Michelin stars is no mean feat but Wareing sees the accolade as just part of the job: ‘The Michelin Guide is the Oscars for restaurants. It’s priceless and there is no other guide to match it in the world. It’s very important because when diners are looking for some form of guidance or advice it is a trusted friend. You aren’t just going to a place because it’s called Marcus; those guide books give it to you because of their history and trust.
I don’t see Michelin stars as pressure. They don’t set standards, they just give out awards. Their stars are for what we do, whether that’s a pub or a five star deluxe hotel.
‘I don’t see Michelin stars as pressure,’ he adds. ‘They don’t set standards, they just give out awards. Their stars are for what we do, whether that’s a pub or a five star deluxe hotel.’
Unlike his contemporaries Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Jason Atherton, Wareing runs his empire by himself, ensuring his own standards of perfection from top to bottom.
‘I am very organised in everything I do,’ he reveals, ‘I’m not just the Head Chef, I own the companies and I run them single-handedly – I always had a naked ambition and I still do. I have no backers in this business so every penny that is made or wasted is mine.’
Whilst other celebrated chefs may baulk at his level of control, it’s a situation that clearly makes him happy, allowing him to control every detail of his empire. He is also one of life’s forward thinkers, happy to be looking to the future in 5, even 10 years time.
‘When I get to 55 I want my work/life balance sorted out,’ he says. ‘Once my children are grown up, I will carry on, but then I see my culinary prodigies running my company as their own. One day it will be theirs; I am not building a legacy for my children. This business changes so quickly and I can’t pass this on to my eldest son when he turns 21 because it will have changed again and he needs to go and find his own vision. All three of my children can come into the business if they want to but it will be their choice, not mine.
‘I don’t think I have a roll-out brand,’ he adds. ‘I don’t believe in rolling out fine dining. I have never worked on a global platform and if I was going to do that I would have to bring a partner on board. In London I’m looking at restaurant 4 or 5. That’s my max.’
Back in the 90s, Wareing worked alongside Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine and Petrus where he honed his fine dining skills. They famously fell out but time seems to have mellowed Wareing.
‘Gordon and I were as thick as thieves when we were growing up and working together,’ he remembers fondly. ‘I always knew he was going to be big; he had a massive personality and was brilliant in the kitchen.’
Wareing took the skills and discipline he had learned in the early days of his career and applied them to his own empire, though setting up restaurants two and three has not been without risks.
‘When I went to King’s Cross and started The Gilbert Scott, I was very worried,’ he says, ‘it’s an area I didn’t know but it’s been great and I’m so pleased I did it.’
Opening Treadwell’s in 2014, a mid-market restaurant in Covent Garden, was equally challenging. ‘It got hit hard by the critics,’ he admits ‘and now I am refining it; what I do best is fine dining and I am going to stick with that and not go down the high street route. It’s not me.’
These days it’s not simply enough to be a Michelin-starred chef. Many of Britain’s top talents are also famous for their TV careers, though Wareing says it’s a career path he’d never previously considered: ‘TV never came into my grand plan,’ he laughs, ‘but life always has ways of surprising you.’
Within a week of opening his first restaurant he was approached by the producer of MasterChef: The Professionals to replace Michel Roux Jr as the show’s expert host.
‘I have always been known as a very hard man to work for, very direct and very aggressive,’ he reveals. ‘The producer said she wanted me for the show because I knew how to communicate with my staff. “I have seen what you do and how you do it, just do it now with a smile on your face,”’ she said. ‘I had never told anyone before what I thought of their cooking whilst smiling, I had always done it in anger but the knowledge is the same.’
Wareing manages to fit in his work on the show with the day-to-day running of his restaurants, thanks to a super planned diary and the support of his wife Jane. While his sons Jake and Archie attend Ludgrove and Tonbridge boarding schools, his daughter Jessie, lives at home with the couple.
‘The way we work as a family is fantastic and we all make a massive effort,’ he says proudly. ‘My wife was part of the business when I relaunched it and I could see her getting very involved in what we were doing but I also saw the importance of her being at home and I wanted to make sure that she was always part of the kids’ lives. So I pushed her out of it and we fell out over it. But now that they are at boarding school she understands what I was looking for.
‘Sending the boys to boarding school was our choice and having limited time with them has made me become a better time manager,’ he adds. ‘I love seeing them play football and rugby and watching them in their plays and concerts. It also gives them the confidence to be the best they can. I tell my boys, at your school, you could be sitting next to the next prime minister or chancellor.’
So what’s next for this culinary dynamo?
‘l’d like to become a businessman who runs businesses for the young people who work in my company. I want them to become their own bosses. That’s where I see myself in my post 50s. But if everything fell away, the one thing I wouldn’t lose is my kitchen. That heartbeat is me and it will always come first.’