White Heat
by Marco Pierre White, photographs by Bob Carlos Clarke
Publisher: Mitchell Beazley, Country: UK
ISBN: 9781845334109, Edition: Reprint, Year: 2007
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Marco Pierre White’s publishers took advantage of his re-emergence on television in the mid-2000s by reprinting “White Heat”. First published in 1990, this book proved that the public had an interest in recipes that were not intended to be made in a home kitchen.

“White Heat” has been a book sought by collectors, professionals and foodies since its original release. Justin North, the owner/chef of Sydney’s Becasse restaurant commented recently that “This changed the way I saw food. I was an apprentice in New Zealand and it gave me an insight to the manic life of a chef; it made me hungry for knowledge about Michelin chefs.” Its impact in terms of kitchen skills, as a source of inspiration for chefs and cooks, and on the design of cookbooks, is still being felt twenty years later.

“White Heat” also set standards in other areas. The stark black and white photographs are so integral to the feel of the book that the photographer, Bob Carlos Clarke, received a prominent credit on the cover. The layout with its blocks of white space and oversized quotes by White owes more to cutting edge magazines like “The Face” than to the cookbooks of years gone by. Finally, there is the no-holds-barred commentary by White about the many aspects of the life of a chef. “White Heat” was an extraordinary book in its time, and it remains so today.

Full review

Structure of the book

The book begins with a forward by Albert Roux, and is followed by an eight page essay by White. Interestingly, the quotes from his mentors are taken from a television show he did where he cooks lunch for each of them. Following this is a thirty-six page photographic essay. The recipes then follow, divided into sections titled First Course, Fish Dishes, Meat Dishes, Puddings, and Basics. These different sections are only noted in the table of contents and by a small title on the top right hand corner of the page. Each recipe has a photo of the finished dish, comments by White in large text, the list of ingredients, and the instructions. The title of each dish is given under the photograph. An index is provided at the back of the book.

About the author

Marco Pierre White was born in Leeds, and became the youngest man to achieve three Michelin stars. His mentors included Albert Roux, Pierre Koffmann, Nico Lanedis, and Raymond Blanc, and chefs to have come out of his kitchens include Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali, Curtis Stone, Donovan Cooke, and Shannon Bennett. “White Heat” was his first cookbook and he has presented several television shows on cooking. While White no longer cooks professionally, he is still involved in the industry with his ownership of a restaurant empire.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

“You’re buying White Heat because you want to cook well? Because you want to cook Michelin stars? Forget it. Save your money. Go and buy a saucepan. You want ideas, inspiration, a bit of Marco? Then maybe you’ll get something out of this book.” Five reprints later, and these words welcome a new generation of readers to White’s view of the restaurant world.

“White Heat” is a slim volume containing recipes for a mere 35 dishes over 130 pages. Compare this to the similarly ground breaking “The French Laundry Cookbook” from 1999 which had recipes for 150 dishes over 323 pages. However, it could be argued that without the success of “White Heat”, we may not have seen the likes of “The French Laundry Cookbook”. In an earlier seminal restaurant text, Fernand Point’s “Ma Gastronomie”, the recipes assumed that the reader already knew the basic preparations. We can only imagine the risk the publisher took in producing a book where there was no assumed knowledge, none of the recipes were simplified, and every step was explained. A book where everyone involved knew that nearly every reader would not possess the skills or ingredients to prepare the dishes. The fact that the risk paid off opened up a new avenue for cookbooks.

White’s recipes are French, but he draws his cooking philosophy from Italy. He writes with deep affection about youthful days in Italy, the brightness of the flavours he tasted there, and how the Italian attitude to cooking inspires him. He developed a philosophy of letting the ingredients speak for themselves, and he often notes this when commenting on his dishes.

A superficial look at the recipes will give the impression that these dishes are far too heavy for modern palates, and therefore not relevant to today’s chef. But that would be a mistake. Consider the sauces: In today’s world, sauces can be as little as a smear on the plate, so it can be surprising to see photographs where the bottom of the plate is covered in liquid. But ignore the volume of sauce, read the recipe, and White’s fundamentals of creating a sauce remain relevant. In another example, the pigeon en vessie with a tagliatelle of leeks and truffles, jus of thyme appears to have too much on the plate, but a careful reading of the recipe reveals a thoughtful construction of flavours that would blossom under the hands of a skilled chef.

For many chefs, the rewards here are in the details. Take for example, the water vinaigrette used for the terrine of leeks and langoustines. A water vinaigrette seems to be counterintuitive and shouldn’t work as a dressing, and yet White notes that “the beauty of this dressing is its marbled effect on the plate – separate pearls of oil and water”. In his comments on the use of a lime sauce served with calves’ liver, he notes the difficulty of matching the flavour of lime with vegetables.

The quality of the recipes is key to any good cookbook, but here the voice of Marco Pierre White is just as vital to the package. His views are blunt, the size of his ego can overwhelm the reader, but you finish with an appreciation of his honesty. It should be recognised that you wouldn’t want him to tone down his manner, but I suspect that there is a certain aspect of him playing up to his reputation, and a hint of a devilish sense of humour. At the end of the photographic essay, there is a quote, “At the end of the day, it’s just food, isn’t it? Just food”. On the next page, just before the recipes begin, is a double page with “The food of the Gods” written across it.

The glue that holds the book together are Clarke’s photographs. His slightly grainy, black and white photographic essay implies the energy, movement and controlled chaos within the kitchen. The stains on the chefs’ whites indicate that these photos were taken during service. Two photographs show White preparing a sauce for one of the other chefs to taste. You can feel the intensity in White’s eyes and body and the complete concentration of the chef. It should be noted that the photographs of the dishes were done by Michael Boys.

What problems/flaws are there?

If readers find a flaw in the book, it will come down to their opinion of White. There will be readers like myself who will lap up everything he writes. But there will be plenty of others who will find his words arrogant and pretentious.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Professional chefs will find plenty of value in its pages, cookbook collectors will find this book an essential addition to their collections, and foodies will enjoy a glimpse into the world of Marco Pierre White. Anyone who is looking for a book with easy recipes, and a gentle encouraging tone should look elsewhere.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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White Heat, Marco Pierre White | 2007 | UK, 3.0 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 06 Nov 2009 at 00:29 | Permalink

    chef white (my all-time fav chef) is a master at his craft, but I heard that this book is a mere pretty piece book for coffee tables; not as many recipes as one would think. doesn’t matter I still admire his craft with or without a book.

  2. Posted 06 Nov 2009 at 13:51 | Permalink

    Thanks for the comment, Dawn.

    As I noted in my review, the book is a slim volume with recipes for just 35 dishes. But in that, you do get a feel of what MPW was doing in his kitchens at the time. These days, we take it for granted that restaurant cookbooks will contain well over 100 recipes, but I’d argue that few of them give you the same insight on the chef or the restaurant as “White Heat” does.

  3. Beth
    Posted 17 Feb 2012 at 12:42 | Permalink

    The jewels in this book are the small collection of recipes under Basics.

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