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Batali, Bourdain, and Ramsay Mentor to Finally Take on America?

"I'm in the business of selling a night out, not a plate of gastronomy."Photo: Ian Derry

Marco Pierre White, the London restaurateur who became perhaps the first celebrity bad-boy chef and the youngest to earn three Michelin stars, may arguably have been the man responsible for teaching his onetime protégé Gordon Ramsay how to show his temper. “Perhaps I created the monster,” he confesses in his new memoir, The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef, out next week. Like Ramsay, White was a famous hothead, but don’t expect him to revive his practice of eighty-sixing customers if and when he takes on the American market (possibly as a partner of Mario Batali). We talked to White about his plans for expansion and his upcoming stint as the new host of Hell’s Kitchen.

You seem to have a good thing going with your London restaurants Luciano, Mirabelle, Quo Vadis, and others. So what’s up with rumors we’ve heard that you’re eyeing America?
I’ve never felt accepted by Britain. That was my whole motivation for getting three stars: acceptance. Maybe America is more accepting. And I like the immigrant mentality.

Is it true you’re looking at Vegas first?
I like Vegas. People go to Vegas to have fun. I’m in the business of selling a night out, not a plate of gastronomy.

So Michelin stars don’t matter as much to you anymore? Otherwise, why not start in New York?
America doesn’t need any more great chefs. It’s about me taking my knowledge from the three-star world and taking it down to the level of a three-star burger or a three-star steak. I’d want to take a concept you could roll out across the country. One that’s easy for the family.

Given the flak that Gordon Ramsay got and the fact that you sued the New York Times for libel over Florence Fabricant’s profile of you, would you be wary of dealing with the U.S. press?
If you go to America and do business and you’re humble and you accept the American way and don’t think you’re the best, you have a better chance of being accepted. If I go to America, I’m going under the radar. I’ll arrive quietly, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll leave quietly.

Does the fact that you’re doing the new season of Hell’s Kitchen mean you’ve made up with Gordon?
No, he’s not on it. My job is to inspire [the contestants] to cook and make them want to win. I’m not there to shout at people. If they cry, they cry with joy.

Mario Batali, who cooked with you once, considers you his hero. Would you partner with him?
I call him once a week. We’ve touched on it. Mario thinks I’d do very well, and that Americans would like my philosophy and life.

What sort of place would you open, a big-box place or something more intimate?
I like volume. Restaurants should be multidimensional; people should be given the option to spend what they want to spend. My whole philosophy is more American than English.

If you do open something here, what sort of time line are we looking at?
I’ve got a restaurant opening in Shanghai and Dubai, and I got my three weeks in America. Maybe this year I start opening up talks and then maybe do something next year.

White and Mario Batali will discuss White’s new memoir, The Devil in the Kitchen (available May 1), at Borders in the Time Warner Center on May 17.

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