With his brooding expression and reputation as a hell-raiser, Marco Pierre White became the first celebrity chef and the first culinary genius to make cooking look sexy. But when HELLO! joins him and his guests - gastronomical greats such as Raymond Blanc, Giorgio Locatelli, Fay Maschler and Tom Parker-Bowles - at a private lunch at Fortnum & Mason to celebrate the relaunch of the 25th anniversary edition of his trailblazing book, White Heat, he reveals that his image as a volatile, modern-day Byron with a penchant for cooking up a storm, is just a myth.
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Marco Pierre White's new book White Heat is out now
"I’m naturally an introvert," he says, despite his former boss Raymond Blanc jovially describing him to HELLO! as a "whirlwind and a force of nature" whom he once sacked – then reinstated – after he punched a colleague and swore during a football match between kitchen staff.
"I live alone and am happy living alone. I love the countryside, which is where I live and feel most comfortable, and hate being surrounded by herds of people. My favourite pastime is wearing my wellies!"
Despite his desire to lead a quiet life – the location of his home in Wiltshire is a closely-guarded secret and he refuses to answer the door unless he is expecting visitors - Marco’s charismatic reputation endures.
This intriguing illusion is perpetuated by White Heat, in which the artistic black and white photography captures a devilishly handsome young Marco, with masses of unruly dark curls and a defiant swagger in a kitchen hot with tension.
"People still think I led a rock and roll lifestyle," says the Hell’s Kitchen and Australian MasterChef star.
"I was in my kitchen 100 hours a week; I didn’t have time to do that. These photos make it all look glamorous, but there’s nothing glamorous about chopping up carcasses and gutting fish!"
Guests at Marco's launch included Fay Maschler and Tom Parker-Bowles
At 33, Marco became the youngest chef in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars, and his swashbuckling image inspired a generation of chefs – including his protégé Gordon Ramsay – to follow in his rakish footsteps.
"You have to be highly disciplined to get Michelin stars," he says. "You can’t be rock n roll. I was a very hard working young man with a dream.
"It was the brilliant late photographer, Bob Carlos Clarke, who created the idea of me being a Heathcliff type through his pictures. He made dirt and hard work look good. But when you work hard you neglect yourself; you don’t think about shaving or combing your hair.
"“Back in the 80s the world of gastronomy was quite boring and all of a sudden there’s this long-haired chap who opens a restaurant, gets Michelin stars, and goes out with beautiful ladies."
Chris Galvin, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffman, Roger Pizey, Bruno Loubet, Raymond Blanc, Jeff Galvin, and Giorgio Locatelli
At 53 and with three marriages – he is currently separated from his third wife Mati, by whom he has three children, Luciano, 20, Marco Jr 19 and 13-year-old Mirabelle – behind him, Marco tells HELLO!: "I think it was the women I dated who gave me a certain allure. It certainly wasn’t me; I’m socially inept, or at least I was back then. If I walk into a room I head for a corner!"
Although he has most recently been romantically linked with actress Emilia Fox, Marco steers the conversation away from his love life and back to his muddy wellies.
"I’m happiest walking through fields, on beaches and over riverbanks," he says. "Nature is my surrogate mother. Down in the country I’ve created butterfly meadows, built dry stone walls, and have geese, hens and guinea fowls.
"I’ve also planted 7000 trees - including a plum orchard of mirabelle plums for my daughter Mirabelle."
The country-loving gourmet is now looking forward to the next course in his life – turning his autobiography, White Slave, into a film. "We’ve given Michael Fassbender first refusal to play me," he says.