Marcus Wareing talks to Tina Lofthouse about the importance of food provenance, cooking with the kids, and his love for the local area
While restaurants have, in recent times, been heralding a move towards eating local and seasonal foods, Marcus Wareing is going one step further. The top chef and MasterChef: The Professionals judge has just purchased his own small-holding. The idea, he tells me with enthusiasm, is to grow fresh produce that will end up on the plates at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, ‘Marcus’, at The Berkeley. But there’s more to it than that – it is also a place to chill out with his family.
“I feel like I am going full-circle in my career as a chef,” he says. “Everything was always delivered. I’m now growing my own, and I want to rear livestock, produce flowers and vegetables for my kitchen.” His small-holding includes honey bees and lambs, with piglets being introduced in the summer.
It’s about being creative but also creating recipes for the home. People can feel scared by books by professional chefs. They should be accessible.
But don’t expect to see him out toiling the fields from dawn till dusk. “I’m not out there in my farmer’s hat and Wellies with my spade. I have someone working on it and I’m getting educated as I go along. But I do own it and run it, and I do know what I want planted. We’re planting lavender as I want the honey to have a natural flavour of the flower running through it. We’re also turning over a field to wild flowers, which the bees will pollinate and the sheep will graze on. There’s a whole cycle of growing and feeding and it will end up on the plates at The Berkeley.”
The small-holding is in Kent, near to where his eldest son Jake, 16, attends boarding school, and where his brother, Archie, 13, will join him in September. His youngest, meanwhile, Jessie, 10, attends Broomwood in Wandsworth.
The main home for he and his wife Jane remains in Wimbledon, where he has lived for the last couple of years. Clearly family time is something he holds dear, and he enjoys cooking with the kids in his downtime. “It feels like the whole house is based in the kitchen,” he says. “I love cooking a good brunch, or curries or roasts. But one of the real joys is putting together a plate of cold meats and salamis with fresh salad.”
At home in Wimbledon, those cold meats might come from Bayley & Sage in the village. “Don’t go there when you are hungry,” he says. “You’ll want to buy everything. They do a well-thought out selection of meats, wines, and amazing cheeses.”
His ethos for eating at home is reflected in his latest recipe book, New Classics. “It is about being creative but also creating recipes for the home,” he says. “People can feel scared by books by professional chefs. They should be accessible. You should also enjoy reading a cookery book before you start cooking.” His favourite recipes include pineapple upside-down cake. “It was one of the first things I ever cooked at school. It is lovely to have that recipe and give it a twist.” A rhubarb custard doughnut is also a favourite. “We used to buy doughnuts from the shop when I was a kid. I was always fascinated by how they were made. My recipe includes rhubarb, one of the things I’m growing, which is pretty cool.”
With his family life, three restaurants and his TV work, Marcus says he doesn’t go to eat out much, but when he does, his local favourite is The Ivy Cafe in Wimbledon Village. “It is my go-to-place locally. It does a great duck salad and a fantastic rib-eye. It also gets everything right in terms of service and hospitality.”
Having lived in Wandsworth for many years before moving to Wimbledon, Marcus also ventures back to Chez Bruce on Wandsworth Common and Trinity in Clapham. While such restaurants have high-calibre chefs in their own right, other lesser-known joints might be somewhat fazed to see Marcus Wareing seated at one of their tables. Marcus hopes not: “I wouldn’t want them to cook anything for me that they wouldn’t cook for anyone else, nor do I want to feel the stress of a restaurant because I’m there. I don’t go out to be fussed over, I go out to relax and enjoy it and I’d want the chef to do the same and just cook some nice food.”
In MasterChef: The Professionals, Marcus is the firm but fair judge, mentoring the hopeful young chefs who want to prove their skills. Good local restaurants are often the launch pad for many a rising star. His advice for young chefs? “Work locally. Do your research on good local restaurants, and then grow and develop from there.”
As to his own plans, Marcus notes that he will be focusing on the restaurants he has: Tredwells, The Gilbert Scott and ‘Marcus’ at The Berkeley. “With Brexit, it is a case of keeping our heads down and working closely with what we’ve got. There’s no expansion plans for me at the moment. I’m also just about to start filming MasterChef: The Professionals in the next few months.”
Marcus is not one to have ever rested on his laurels. Even when he gets some time to himself, he is a keen runner and enjoys the green open spaces of Wimbledon Common. “That is one of the things I love most about the area,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like you’re in London.” He likes going for family bike rides, crossing from Wimbledon Common to Richmond Park. “Richmond Park is a fantastic place, and it is great to be able to go over there and see all the deer roaming around.”
He is also a fan of the different architectural styles in the area. “Every other house is different.” His own property is contemporary. “We wanted something modern and hassle-free. We don’t have time to think about new boilers and new lighting systems.”
His house backs onto tennis courts in Wimbledon. He doesn’t play the game, but loves watching the Championships. “We go into the ballot for tickets and if we’re not lucky we queue up. But even the queue has a great atmosphere. Wimbledon is very well-organised. The whole village is buzzing and everyone is very respectful. It is a pleasure to be around.”