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'White Heat,' Marco Pierre White book that revolutionized restaurants, reappears

Russ Parsons
The California Cook
Marco Pierre White was the original bad boy chef

It’s the look that launched a thousand cooking careers. Marco Pierre White stares out from the page, nearly gaunt, the lines on his face etched even deeper by the black and white photography. A cigarette dangles from his lips, and his long hair is wild and looks like it may not have been washed in days. His eyes are haunted but burn with an unmistakable fire.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Marco Pierre White: In the April 11 Saturday section, an article about Marco Pierre White's book "White Heat" misspelled French chef Marc Meneau's last name as Menou. —
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Every bad-boy chef around the world — of either gender, whether they know it or not — traces their lineage to White, as captured by photographer Bob Carlos Clarke in the book “White Heat.” 

Little noticed by the world at large when it was published, the book has become one of the founding documents of modern restaurant life. First editions are rare and sell for more than $100.

And now Mitchell Beazley has republished it in a hardcover 25th anniversary edition called, simply “White Heat 25.”

White was the youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars at his Restaurant Marco Pierre White in London in 1995, but he was a chef with a different worldview.

Before White, serious kitchens were run like military units, buttoned down, shipshape and spotless. He made working in a kitchen look more like joining a rock band.

"Bob Carlos Clarke's photos of a young, furiously driven, stressed out Marco Pierre White were revolutionary for a number of reasons,” says Anthony Bourdain, a bit of a bad boy himself back in his chef days. 

“They depicted a backstairs subculture of professional cooking in a way not previously seen in a cookbook. They paired photos of classically beautiful food with a chef who looked like a real chef — not a god from a faraway land. 

“They were borderline homoerotic in their near fetishistic lingering on a frankly beautiful Marco. They singlehandedly made chefs ‘hot’ and sexually desirable. 

“Marco's long, scraggly hair, attitude — and the shots of him casually smoking — brought a rock and roll panache to what was previously seen as a pantheon of portly, unapproachable, middle-aged French guys.” 

The images are so archetypal that restaurant supplier J.B. Prince sells a Marco Pierre White T-shirt for $27. 

Ludo Lefebvre, chef and owner at Los Angeles’ Trois Mec and Petit Trois, becomes almost ecstatic when talking about the book. White’s image was revolutionary in a cooking world where, he says, his boss Marc Meneau once sent him home to shave his head because his hair was messy.

“I loved it, I loved it, I loved it!” Lefebvre says. “All my life I had had to be so spotless, looking at the book gave me the inspiration to be me, you know, the sexy French chef. Before I always felt like I was in a straitjacket. Everything was so serious. 

“Marco Pierre White was the first and the only rock star chef in the kitchen,” he says. “Nobody can do that the way he did — the look, the energy. Nobody can be like him. He was the first rock star chef and maybe the only one.”

But there was more to White than swag. Mario Batali, who worked for White early in his career, calls him a “celebrity cook,” not chef, and means it as a compliment. 

“He worked the line, he cleaned the hood, he smoked with a sturgeon on his lap, he was street tough, not media polish.  

“Working with Marco was like swimming in the eye of a hurricane, calm for moments, minutes, even hours, and then from nowhere a thunderbolt of anger or joy followed by a bollocking embarrassing to both the berated and the abuser.  

“His food was so smart and for me at the time so revolutionary, that it was worth sticking out the eight months. We parted as mortal enemies and rediscovered our friendship through the lens of Bill Buford’s ‘Heat.’ We have been good friends and close confidants ever since.”

That’s the side of White that appeals to Republique owner Walter Manzke, who has always seemed very happy in his starched whites and high-and-tight haircut. 

Nevertheless, hanging center stage at Republique restaurant is one of Clarke’s photos. Manzke hopes that picture will eventually become the start of a pantheon of chefs who have influenced him — Joel Robuchon, Charlie Trotter, Joachim Splichal. 

And though Manzke acknowledges that it was the sexy rebel look that first drew him to White when he was a kid starting out, now he sees something different.

“Everybody says that when they look at the picture, it kind of gives you the Keith Richards image, but from what everybody who worked with him says, he was absolutely not like that,” Manzke says. 

“He was very dedicated, very straight, completely hard working. The lines that are carved into his face are from the hard work and stress. That’s the real life of a chef you’re seeing there.”

Indeed, White's star burned brightly but briefly. Only four years after winning his third Michelin star White publically retired. Now 53, he has returned to the restaurant business, but without reaching the same glory. A recent review of his St. James Rib Room and Oyster Bar called it "a sausage factory of mediocrity."

Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story misspelled Marc Menau's last name

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