Whether it’s the contestants, the production crew or the TEN Network themselves, this British cook is revered. Certainly he has the credentials to back it up, the youngest chef ever to have been awarded three Michelin stars.
He’s credited as the man who taught Gordon Ramsay, amongst others, and he may well need to be immortal if he is to help revive the TEN Network, after a horrendous six months.
TEN is pinning its hopes on MasterChef: The Professionals spearheading its 2013 programming, discarding amateurs for seasoned chefs under the guardianship of White and food critic Matt Preston.
If he is the “chef’s chef” (and of this there seems little doubt), then despite the fanfare, he is retaining his humility.
“No-one says that to me. But like a lot of chefs I do my little bit for the industry,” he says.
White is also considered the first “celebrity chef”. He trained at Hotel St George in Harrogate, Box Tree in Ilkley, and later under Albert Roux and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche, under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane.
“In those days chefs weren’t celebrities. They were these mythical creatures and you just knew the name. They were plain, they weren’t stars.”
Thanks to television, and a bit of savvy management, they sure are now.
White has previously appeared in MasterChef Australia as a guest, but agreed to a principal role for the new series because he believes in the show’s credibility. The fact that the brand is a lot more successful than some previous forays, The Chopping Block USA being amongst them, can’t hurt either.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been treated so nicely outside of the UK. Actually having said that I think they treat me nicer here than they do in the UK! It’s very nice working with Shine and TEN,” he admits.
“I got asked if I would come and be Matt Preston’s little sidekick. I’m Don Quixote, I know my position. He is the snake charmer. He is the gastronomic guru.
“What’s important is that you can share your philosophy or knowledge with the viewing public and contestants.
“You’re the to inspire people and teach people. Although this is a competition so you can’t teach them too much.”
There are 18 contestants battling to become the title holder in The Professionals. White admits to being fond of Australians, having also trained a young Curtis Stone and Shannon Bennett.
“One thing about Australian chefs is, they were very honest. They worked hard for a year, they were punctual. Their want to learn and better themselves as chefs is very different to the English. They have a hunger which the English chefs don’t have,” he says.
“The young Australians wanting to learn is refreshing, rather than wanting to become a TV star or wanting to be a head chef straight away.
“Australian chefs also have a lot of humility and you need that to learn.”
Briefly he begins to mention some of the contestants under his watch for TEN. There’s Cassie, 19, and Rhys, 33.
“He is such a wonderful chef, with a great understanding such a consistent style.”
Michael, 22, “really pushes and pushes. So to see that struggle where he pushes through those barriers is amazing.
But they all have one thing in common, they love food.”
In the TEN promos White is marketed as the ‘enfant terrible’, an ominous figure seemingly at odds with the show’s rise to fame as a supportive brand. I question whether the casting is right but the promos are wrong. White points out it’s only one side to him and that he is no Gordon Ramsay.
“As I always say, ‘Before service I’m your friend, after service I’m your friend. But in service we’ve got a job to do,” he insists.
“But I will always be polite, I will always be correct. I’ll never scream in a nasty way. I’ll never swear. It’s just something I won’t do.
“I believe by being polite and understanding and caring you get the very best out of contestants. When you go through a very tough service like we did today, they follow you because you give them respect.
“I’m one link in the chain. I play a very important role in getting the food out.
“One of the greatest methods you can us in teaching people is 100% honesty.”
Doing television demands a lot of White’s time, but he liaises with his British interests via online. Reality television, for all its criticism, also helps communicate a food language to a wider audience and Australia’s MasterChef, as far as he is concerned, sits at the top of that tree.
“I’ve worked on many shows and I’ve got to say the production company is amazing. And the people at the top have a great love and understanding for food. That’s why MasterChef is such a great show,” he says.
“It is without question the greatest show on earth, the way the Australians do it. It’s much more than a cooking show, it’s educational, it’s life stories, it’s inspirational, it’s just amazing.”
MasterChef: The Professionals premieres 7:30pm Sunday on TEN.