Top chefs stir up a flavour of their past in Ilkley

Ilkley Gazette: Top chefs Simon Gueller (left) and Marco Pierre White are pictured at the Box Tree in Ilkley. Buy this photo » Top chefs Simon Gueller (left) and Marco Pierre White are pictured at the Box Tree in Ilkley.

Marco Pierre White returned to Ilkley's Box Tree restaurant this week to hook up with old friend and chef Simon Gueller.

The renowned restaurateur is filming for his new series, Hell's Kitchen, and wanted to return to the restaurant he calls his spiritual home, where both men trained to become Michelin-starred chefs.

Mr White said: "Ilkley is a very special place for me and the Box Tree is my spiritual home because it's where I started as a boy and it changed my life - my world turned from black and white into colour. They inspired me like no one else inspired me.

"The filming today is more personal, so they can add little snippets of me cooking with Simon into the live show.

"We go back 30 years. We went to different schools but there is a girl in common,"

Those 30 years have been dramatic, with Mr White not only becoming stratospherically successful but also leaving terrified young chefs in his wake.

Born in Leeds in 1961 Mr White spent his teenage years training first in Harrogate and then Ilkley's Box Tree under the tutelage of Malcolm Reid and Colin Long.

"What those boys were all about was flavour," he said. "They didn't have that formal French training so they had to memorise flavours and then try to recreate them. I have the same inspiration that the boys at the Box Tree had.

Having quickly learnt his trade, at the age of 16 Mr White left the Box Tree - one of the first restaurants in Britain to get two Michelin stars - to train as a commis chef at the award-winning French restaurant Le Gavroche.

The region's no-nonsense attitude shaped his approach to cooking in London: "If I took anything from Yorkshire it is my love for Mother Nature," he said. "Great chefs have three things in common. First, they accept that Mother Nature is the true artist.

"Second, that everything must be extension of them as a person, and third that everything on your plate must give an insight into the world that you came from."

Just 17 years later, Mr White had become the youngest chef in the world and the first Briton to be awarded three Michelin stars. He had also trained some of the most talented chefs in the country, including Gordon Ramsey and Heston Blumenthal.

But, by 1999 he had tired of the commercial kitchen and gave back his Michelin stars to concentrate on his family.

Interestingly, Mr White notes that he stopped cooking after 38 years, which is how old his mother was when she died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in his early childhood.

So, it is good to see him returning to his roots and cooking up a storm in the kitchen rather than the tabloids.

Mr White visited the Box Tree at the beginning of July for dinner, eating Gueller's Spanish ham with pickles, lamb a la Nicoise and a feuillantine of raspberries.

"It was the best food that anyone has ever served in the Box Tree," he said. "This is the most special restaurant in Yorkshire and it is good to see it back at the top.

"It has gone on a bit of a rollercoaster over the years with different owners. What is nice now is that Simon and Rena have instilled some of that magic with their personalities.

"It still has that same philosophy and it is still about giving people a great night out."

In the kitchen that night, White and Gueller cooked turbot with orange and a confit of lemon, escalope of salmon with a tomato and fennel vinaigrette, and the classic Box Tree steak au poivre with Worcestershire sauce and cream.

Mr White said: "It is all about eating, not trying to be flashy, and allowing the food to show itself off.

"We see chef's technical skills all the time - they change the shape of potatoes and carrots. They make food no longer look like food.

"The most poisonous sauce in any kitchen is the chef's ego."

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