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‘The First Celebrity Chef’: Photos Take Us Inside the Kitchen of Marco Pierre White

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When chef Marco Pierre White, famously recognized as the original celebrity chef, released his cookbook and memoir White Heat twenty-five years ago, he became a cultural icon. The photographs in the book, shot by the late Bob Carlos Clarke, helped to solidify the young man’s status as a the decade’s ultimate enfant terrible, featuring rowdy kitchen shenanigans and shirtless studio portraits in lieu of the chef’s most famous dishes.

The concept for White Heat was formulated by both the photographer and the chef, who remained dear friends until the former’s tragic death in 2006. Shot in the Wandsworth restaurant Harveys, for which the twenty-four year old White worked as Head Chef from 1987-1993, Clarke’s photos chronicle the chaos and rigor that went into each plate of the chef’s well-known tagliatelle with oysters.

Training under White at this time were such recognizable names as Gordon Ramsey, Bryn Williams, Heston Blumenthal, Matt Tebbutt, and Thierry Busset. As a devoted mentor, most particularly to Ramsey, White had his moments of unpredictability. Clarke, never one to shy away from provocative and subversive imagery, capitalized ingeniously on the chef’s bad boy persona, capturing such exploits as the time White slashed open an employee’s uniform after the latter complained of the kitchen’s sweltering heat. White reportedly made the unfortunate cook wear the torn clothing through the duration of the night’s service.

Clarke envisioned White as a figure both cool and dangerous, unbalanced and invincible, outfitted always with long, tousled hair and a perpetual cigarette. In conversation with The Guardian, the chef notes that today, he looks back on these youthful photos as evidence of a dissatisfaction and anguish that bubbled beneath his aloof exterior. Now retired, he enjoys talking about his orchards and beehives. Of course, it’s this tension and urgency of the chef’s famed lifestyle that makes Clarke’s photographs so enduring. For White Heat, he documented a world wherein ecstasy and stress were indistinguishable, and a memory that persists long after White himself left it behind.

In celebration of the twenty-five year anniversary of White Heat, both a book and an exhibition will present the original photos alongside those never-before seen. White Heat 25 / Photographs of Marco Pierre White by Bob Carlos Clarke, supported by Olympus, is at The Little Black Gallery London from 10 February – 10 March.  White Heat 25 is published by Mitchell Beazley in the UK in February, and in the USA in April.

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All images © The Estate of Bob Carlos Clarke

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