Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Inspirational Chefs I: Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White. The original bad boy of cuisine. Mentor and inspiration for Gordon Ramsay (another kitchen bad boy), Heston Blumenthal and many others. From a council estate in Leeds, England, the boy became one of the Godfathers of modern cuisine with a restaurant empire currently valued at around $60 million. He has dated and dumped some of London's prettiest and richest maidens. He has cursed at and kicked famous people out of his restaurants for little or nothing other than the fact that he didn't like them. His power and hold over the UK and European restaurant scene is stronger than ever. At 33, he won a coveted third Michelin star, the youngest chef ever to do so. A few years later he handed them back, as he didn't feel he needed them any more. This, at a time when most of his proteges were struggling to achieve them. Marco now spends most of his time presiding over his restaurant empire (including The Oak Room, Mirabelle, Quo Vadis, and Hyde Park Hotel) and shooting and fly-fishing on his country estate.

Marco had a deeply unhappy childhood. His mother died of a brain haemorrage when he was six, and his absent father pushed him into kitchens when he was young to train. He worked first as a commis and his first encounter with the Brigade system was at the Box Tree, in Ilkley, North Yorkshire, where he was exclusively referred to as 'cunt'. He turned up in London as a 16 year old, peniless and full of ambition. He wangled a commis job with the Roux Brothers at le Gavroche, under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire and from there in 1987, he opened Harveys in Wandsworth Common, now the site of another Michelin-starred restaurant, Chez Bruce. At Harveys, he was awarded his first star, then almost immediately a second. His pursuit of excellent extended to every plate that left his kitchen. He was obsessive and relentless in his pursuit of those stars and he was 'fond' of bullying tactics to foster respect and flawless food. Gordon Ramsay famously burst into tears while working as a commis at Harveys when Marco had given him a good bollocking in front of the staff. Excellence, says Marco, is a lot of little things done very very well and pulled together. He would accept nothing but perfection. Bullying tactics in the heat of the kitchen work though - 6 of White's commis chefs went on to claim Michelin stars. He had, in effect, rasied the entire standard of British cuisine to a level to rival classic French gastronomy.

Marco's cuisine centres around showcasing the best of British ingredients. His book, 'Wild Food from Land and Sea' contains recipes for rabbit, mussels and fish found in British waters, scallops, pigeon, and I reckon he has a real feeling for the terroir philosophy the French keep so dear. Marco makes full use of every scrap of all ingredients, beliveing that waste is unacceptable. And I think he's quite right.

So this then, is a dish inspired by the great man:

Rabbit three ways

You will need, for four people:
1 whole rabbit, preferably wild, jointed
flour and Colman's mustard powder for dusting
olive oil
1 onion, 1 carrot, diced finely
3-4 sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 cups rabbit broth*
3 cups of cider (that's hard cider)
enough chicken stock to finish covering the joints
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1/2 tsp Colman's mustard
1 pinch of chopped freh tarragon

more olive oil and butter to roast the loin and to fry the julienned belly.

Joint the rabbit as follows. Empty the body cavity of liver, heart, kidneys and remove fat from inside the loin, reserve the organs but discard the fat. Remove the back legs and front legs intact, by cutting around the joint and 'popping' the bone out. Remove the belly flaps from the ribcage and loin. Seperate tail from loin (just imagine it's where your arse meets your back - that's where your knife goes) and ribcage from loin. You should have two meaty strips running either side of the spine. You need to chop this into four equal pieces, chopping straight through the backbone. You're left with a rib cage, some neck and the organs. You'll need that stuff for the rabbit broth, but save the kidneyS for a garnish. I like to flash-fry them on skewers in butter and brandy for an offal treat.

*Rabbit broth: Chop the rib bones, neck, liver and heart into small pieces. Chop an onion, carrot and 2 ribs of celery into chunks. Toss all the bones and vegetables with olive oil and put into a 350F oven to roast until it has some nice colouring, about 45 mins. Put this into a pan, delgazing the oven roasting dish with some water or a splash of Calvados and adding to the meat and veg. To this add a few back peppercorns, a few juniper berries, 3 bay leaves, some parsely stems, some tarragon if you have it, and cover the whole lot with cold water, enough to cover everything and make 3 or 4 cups. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat immediately and simmer gently for about 1-1.5 hours. Strain the broth, throughy muslin/cheesecloth if you have it, and chill in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove the fat that has solidified on the top. There you have it.

So to make the trio of rabbit dishes, you'll first need to braise the hind quarters and the front legs.

BRAISE: Set the oven to 375F. In a plastic bag put some seasoned flour and mustard powder and shake those joints until the are all lightly coated. Brown on a Dutch oven in hot oil. Remove and keep warm. Add the onion and carrot and sweat for 8-9 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for another 5-6 mintues, without letting anything colour. Put the browned rabbit joints on top, add the rabbit broth, cider and stock to cover, bring to a boil. Put in the oven with the lid on and cook for about 70 minutes. Remove the rabbit meat and leave to cool. Meanwhile strain the veg from the sauce and return the liquid back to the pan to reduce by two thirds. Add the cream, the mustard and reduce until you have a thick sauce. Add the chopped tarragon. Shred the cooled rabbit meat and mix with just enough of the sauce to form a stiff mixture. Keep warm until needed.

ROAST: Set the oven to 375F. Season the 4 loin sections. In a shallow frying pan over a medium flame, heat some oil and a knob of butter and the seasoned meat, basting and browning all over. Place in the oven, still at 375F, for about 8 mins. Remove and allow to rest.

FRY: Julienne the rabbit belly flaps finely and fry in hot oil until very crisp. Think 'rabbit cracklings' and you'll get the idea.

ASSSEMBLY: Using a ring mould, portion out some of the braised mixture into the centre of a plate. rest the roast loin section on top of that and arrange the crispy belly fries on top of that.

I served mine with a wild mushroom risotto and some mustard vinaigrette.
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