Small Object of desire #26 – Heroes

Uh, there’s something rising in my belly….it’s burgeoning….uh, huh….it’s here! I need to quote Bonnie Tyler. Bear with me, it will make sense in the end. 

Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods ?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed ?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero, I’m holding out for at hero ‘till the end of the night  
He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast 
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ‘till the morning light
He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life, larger than life

Why my plaintive cry? Because I saw something on telly the other night that made me hold my head in despair. One of my heroes has sold his soul to a turkey twizzler. I’m looking at you, Marco Pierre White.

I’m sure he doesn’t give a monkeys for who I am or what I think but it’s still my prerogative to bemoan his falling. He follows hot on the heels of Iggy Pop with the Swift Cover insurance ads and Johnny Lydon in the Anchor Butter ads. I was dismayed by their selling out in such a shameless and cheesy way but their capitulation to the lure of a fat dollar didn’t hurt quite so much as Marco’s. I thought he was a hero that was gonna last ‘till the end of the night. 

I should put my former adulation in context. I live with a classically trained chef so I get to eat and learn about lots of yummy food. Yes, I am something of a foodie and I love looking at food porn. Although I knew about Marco Pierre White way before I met my chef, (having worked for years in the fine dining industry), I gained a new level of appreciation for what Marco represented to chefs and British food when I met my chef. 

This is the man who was dubbed the first celebrity chef, the enfant terrible, of the UK restaurant scene and the Godfather of modern cooking. He was the first British chef to be awarded 3 Michellin stars (he later gave them back) and the youngest chef in the world to do so. He trained Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, even made him cry (‘People say I made Gordon Ramsay cry,’ says Marco. ‘I say, “Gordon had two options: he chose to cry”’).

His influence has had a long reach. He called Jamie Oliver a ‘fat chef with a drum kit’ – I had to laugh at thatand dammit, his rock-star style and originality in his seminal book White Heat made cooking sexy. For many chefs the world over, reading White Heat was akin to a religious experience. Ask any chef who really cares about food and they will wax lyrical in their hero worship of Marco. They don’t think he sold out with the Knorr stock cube ads because they all agree that while the cubes can’t of course replace making your own stock, they work when you’re in a pinch. 

It’s debatable but I reckon he was the single most important factor that allowed British cuisine to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. He’s no longer the enfant terrible of the kitchen, more the affable uncle. He’s gone from this:

and this:

to this:

Mmm, frozen food packaged with lots of steroids and goodness knows what else. He claims that “Ever since I was a young boy I’ve been an admirer of turkey and particularly Bernard Matthews, because he is without question one of the great farmers of the last 5 decades.”

Who the hell wrote that script? I found this disingenuous given that he once said “As a TV chef, you dilute your currency.” Does he really, truly believe in what he’s selling. Really, REALLY??? His former self must be turning over in his grave. Remember the whole brouhaha over Bernard Matthews turkeys and bird ‘flu and the conviction of two of its employees for using baseball bats to play with the birds? I can only say that my heart will never be the same again. 

But why should our heroes be forever preserved in the aspic of their rebellious younger selves? In the same way we reserve the right to change our minds and mellow as we grow older, they have the right to do so as well. If Bernard Matthews showed him the cold hard cash, who can blame him for taking the money and running?

Still stings though. 



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