Pineapple upside-down cake with rum, anyone? Marcus Wareing talks to Ella Walker about his latest ventures and future plans.
There’s a difference between ‘tampering’ with classic recipes and ‘improving’ them, so says 2-Michelin starred chef, Marcus Wareing.
The 47-year-old, best known for presenting MasterChef: The Professionals, and for running his three restaurants (Marcus at The Berkeley, The Gilbert Scott and Tredwells), has created a whole book based around that distinction.
New Classics, the follow-up tome to 2016’s Marcus At Home, takes traditional favourites and puts a spin on them, as well as offering up original dishes the Southport-born chef hopes “could one day become classics in their own right”.
You can’t beat a pineapple upside-down cake
Take his ‘new’ pineapple upside-down cake – a riff on the first thing he ever made in home economics at school. “That day, it was all about the creaming method – creaming your butter and sugar together to make a basic sponge,” he remembers. “You lined a tin with butter and greaseproof paper, then put your tinned pineapple rings in, your tinned glacé cherries in the holes in the pineapple, then put your mix on top, bake it, turn it out – and it’s like, wow, hey presto – two or three actions and you’ve got yourself a fabulous looking cake. So simple, but so much fun.”
His ‘new’ version still uses tinned pineapple (although sadly no glacé cherries), plus the added bonus of a load of rum.
“I do have a fabulous sweet tooth. When I was growing up, fruit was a big part of our life,” says Marcus, recommending his poached peach with oat crumb and ricotta pudding, and recalling beautiful figs he’d buy with his father, who supplied local corner shops and schools with produce. It’s those memories driving Marcus’ next venture: growing his own.
Growing your own is becoming increasingly important
“As a chef in central London, and who’s worked in cities, I just want to go back to my roots,” he muses. “As a boy, I used to spend a lot of time going round farms with my father. I’d see farmers digging up the raw produce, the carrots, the swedes, the potatoes, and the herbs and beetroot that we used to get – it was amazing, but I never really understood the growing aspect of it. I’ve missed it, I really feel that I want to be part of that.”
He’s found a fairly big farm in Kent to develop. “I’ve got some apple orchards and bees, so I’m going to start producing my own honey, and we’re getting ready for the spring crop next year,” says Marcus, buzzing at the prospect. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done it in my life and I’m really excited.”
The idea is that, long term, he’ll have a kitchen garden to cook and write from, and “be inspired by what’s in front of me”.
A MasterChef winner needs personality as well as talent
In recent years, Marcus has been inspiring others as a judge on MasterChef, alongside the stern but brilliant Monica Galetti (“Would I fear Monica? No chance, haha. She’ll probably hit me for saying that”) and dessert aficionado Gregg Wallace. We’re currently halfway through season 10, although Marcus admits he’s usually more interested in watching news and current affairs than cookery programmes himself, but does love Nigella (“She’s amazing”), while the Hairy Bikers “just make me laff”.
“I’m looking for personality, for someone who really wants to be here in the kitchen; someone who’s got ambition to really show us what they can do,” he says on how he goes about identifying a winner. “Our job is to open up their brains up and let them see what’s possible when you get those creative juices flowing.
“It’s on the job feedback at quite an intense pace,” he adds, noting that some “really stunning cookery comes out towards the end – absolutely mind-blowingly exceptional”.
While his immediate future is filled with MasterChef and Christmas, Marcus has some rather adorable plans for the new year. “I want to get some little piglets,” he says giddily. “I’ve never done it, but I’ve got some woodland on the farm as well. I want to put some piglets on there, but it’s all got to be done right, and then,” he pauses conspiratorially, “we can eat them! Sorry!”
New Classics: Inspiring And Delicious Recipes To Transform Your Home Cooking by Marcus Wareing, photography by Jonathan Gregson, is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.
© Press Association 2017