August 22, 2014 3:16 pm

‘I love a good fight’: Marcus Wareing on falling-out with Gordon Ramsay

The celebrity chef talks about his new role on TV’s ‘MasterChef’ – and the acrimonious split with his former employer

Marcus Wareing, one of Britain’s most ambitious and successful chefs, is a man who knows his own mind. The decision three years ago to buy his Victorian house in Wandsworth, south London, was immediate. The property was mid-development, with a dig-down basement project under way that would expand the home from 3,500 sq ft to 7,000 sq ft. “I knew immediately this was the right place,” says Wareing. “It was really just the kitchen that needed to be done up, and that suited us perfectly.”

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He strides into the sitting room-cum-kitchen, a clean and contemporary space featuring a cream, wrap-around sofa and dramatic Vistosi glass chandeliers. There is remarkably little clutter given that he is the father of three young children: Jake, 12, Archie, nine, and Jess, seven.

“In summer, this is one of my favourite places – just sitting here,” he says, looking out on to the tree-lined garden. “It’s incredibly private, there’s no noise or planes going over.”

Wareing has been riding on the successful relaunch of Marcus, his two-Michelin-star restaurant at The Berkeley hotel this year, and his second restaurant, The Gilbert Scott, at the St Pancras Renaissance hotel, and he is preparing to open his third restaurant – Tredwell’s – in London’s Covent Garden. “It’s our nod to the high street,” he says. Yet over cups of tea, he talks openly about the acrimonious split with his former employer, Gordon Ramsay Holdings, in 2008 – one of many defining moments that shaped him into the chef he is today.

Is he on speaking terms with Ramsay? “No, no, no,” he says. “We went into litigation – it was great – I love a good fight. He had this amazing TV career and I felt suppressed by people who were working in an office.”

The dispute centred on Ramsay’s Pétrus restaurant, then located at The Berkeley, where Wareing was a partner. GRH’s contract with The Berkeley was up for renewal so, frustrated by a lack of freedom to run the restaurant his way (“I wasn’t going to be told by some young whippersnapper in the office what to do”), Wareing saw an opportunity. After several years of litigation, he and Ramsay went their separate ways and Wareing was awarded the contract for the site at the height of the financial crisis in 2008. Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley was born and Ramsay moved Pétrus to another location in Belgravia.

Favourite thing

Wine decanter and extremely fine wine glass

Wareing reaches over his cookbooks, which include Nigella Express, and pulls out some decanters and very delicate wine glasses by Riedel, the French glassmaker.

“I love decanting wines and enjoying them,” he says. “Bordeaux reds and Burgundy whites are my favourite. I have relaxed more since the refurbishment at Marcus and I let my staff taste the wine and open the bottles. When you have some great wine that’s beautifully decanted and it’s had time to breathe, believe it or not the vessel that carries it also plays a part in the experience of it.”

This year Wareing decided on a full-scale refurbishment and renamed the restaurant Marcus. “I hadn’t changed it for five years, it was still Pétrus ... it was the burgundy walls, the burgundy carpet – everything,” he says. “By stripping the restaurant and putting that bloody red room in a skip, and throwing it away – it was one of the most amazing things.”

Despite the rift, he describes working with Ramsay in the 1990s as his most formative professional experience. “You go into a restaurant like that and you are not as good as you think you are.” Wareing had worked under several top chefs by the time he was hired at Ramsay’s first solo restaurant, Aubergine, in 1993 but he said this was different. “You were basically stripped down ... only the strongest survive. But I wanted it and I was hungry for it.”

Wareing’s own kitchen is minimalist. Down one side, the walls are lined with bespoke grey, wooden units and a professional Bonnet cooker. An island made of white composite stone cuts down the middle of the room. “I like kitchens to be streamlined. I like it to be kept tidy and gadget-free if possible: places to eat, places to chop and cut, and places to store things.”

Does he cook at home? “When we are at home on weekends we do share our cooking. Jane [his wife] and I both cook – it’s not a question of Jane doing the cooking and me sitting on the couch,” he says.

Wareing’s work ethic is clearly ingrained. His father was a fruit and vegetable merchant in Southport, Merseyside, delivering mostly school meal services. “Because Dad worked such long hours, seven days a week, the only time I was going to get to see him was if I went and spent time with him, which introduced me to working in a warehouse as a young schoolboy. Being a delivery boy you go to kitchens and at weekends I was going to hotels and restaurants from 11 years old.”

His elder brother is also a chef, so he often helped him out in the kitchen of a big seaside hotel in Southport. “I had a passion for work at the beginning more than anything else,” says Wareing. “My Dad’s ethos was work hard – going out with workmen being in wagons, trucks ... but there were real characters in kitchens, and I was drawn to it.” Aged 16 he was told by his father there was no future in his business. “Supermarkets were taking over; corner shops were getting squashed ... ‘Go and find yourself a new career’, he said.”

You were basically stripped down ... only the strongest survive. But I wanted it and I was hungry for it

Wareing registered at catering college and was soon talent-spotted in a catering competition by Jack Neighbour, a lecturer at South Trafford College in Greater Manchester who knew Anton Edelmann at The Savoy, which led to a job at the London hotel.

The subject of talent-spotting leads on to one of Wareing’s latest projects: taking over from Michel Roux Jr as presenter and chef on BBC One’s MasterChef, the new series of which is due to air in the UK this autumn. “I was never a fan of being on TV ... anything apart from this would have been a no for me. Chefs all around the country wanted this gig because Michel has done such a good job with it. It’s not just a TV show – it’s about finding the stars of the future.”

Wareing leads the way downstairs to a vast basement. “It’s like a boutique hotel down here,” he says with a laugh, walking into the first room, a gym, where a punchbag hangs in the centre of the room. “[Boxing’s] great in the winter when it’s pouring down with rain, I generally come down here for a couple of hours.” He’s also a keen runner. At the other end of the garden beneath an outbuilding is a squash court that he plans to convert into a swimming pool.

Continuing down the long corridor, Wareing points out a spare bedroom, an office and a large wine cellar. A self-professed Francophile, Wareing takes pride in the bottles of Château Margaux visible through the glass window. “The big, big wines are French,” he says. There are a few brightly coloured oil paintings of the South of France on the walls. Would he consider opening a restaurant abroad, in France, perhaps? “It’s a nice dream but at the moment we have a job here and we’ve got these guys [the kids] too – we’ve got to get them right.”

Wareing’s wife has been involved in the running of his restaurants and co-owns the business, while also running the home. “I do budget and business,” says Wareing, while Jane attends meetings and gives the outside opinion. “[Before the refurbishment] our business was being discussed in this house nonstop. I like to cut off when I’m at home. But because Jane was ingrained in it ... it could cause friction. So I tried to push her slightly away.”

We continue through to a second sitting room with a widescreen TV on one wall and a collection of toys in the corner. His daughter comes in to join us, along with the cat, Reggie. “One of the things I will not do,” says Wareing, “is miss my children growing up – which my father did.”

Wareing says he plans to step back from the kitchen eventually and become more of a restaurateur. Does he aspire to winning that elusive third Michelin star? “It’s every chef’s dream. It’s not an aim. When you are determined to go for something like a star or a Michelin star, you sometimes can miss it because you can’t see the wood for the trees.”

Serena Tarling is a commissioning editor on House & Home

Slideshow photographs: Victoria Birkinshaw

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