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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 16th June 2006

Marco v Gordon


Question: What are the similarities between celebrity chefs and football hooligans?

Answer: Both groups carry knives, both are notoriously quick-tempered and both like nothing more than a good ruck.

Within the catering trade, stories of the feuds between the prima donnas at the top of the profession are legion. Among those who've locked spatulas are Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, Anthony Worrall Thompson and Keith Floyd, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Ainsley Harriott and, of course, Gary Rhodes and Delia Smith.

However, even within this notoriously quarrelsome group, there is one spat that puts the rest in the shade: that between Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. They are the King Kong and Godzilla of the restaurant business.

According to legend, it all stems from Gordon's decision to ask Guy Savoy, the famous French chef, to write the 'Foreword' to his first recipe book. This was in 1996, the same year that Aubergine was awarded three Michelin stars with Gordon at the helm. Marco allegedly took the view that since Gordon had got his start working in his kitchen at Harveys, it should have been him, and not the Frenchman, who was accorded this honour.

Fast-forward to the present and scarcely a week goes by without one of them taking a potshot at the other. "Have the courage to give back your stars," cried Marco in a recent interview in Waitrose Food Illusrated. "If a chef is doing television shows in America, who is running his restaurant? He's not there is he?"

Some cynics have suggested that this 10-year feud is nothing more than a publicity stunt. According to this theory, Gordon and Marco are like two professional wrestlers, snorting and grunting for the benefit of the cameras, but with no real animosity towards each other. Indeed, one restaurant critic even claims to have spotted them together at an after-hours bar in Soho, slapping each other on the back and roaring with laughter.

There's undoubtedly an element of truth in this--both are canny media operators and know how many column inches can be squeezed out of a good feud--but it seems unlikely that they'd be able to sustain it for such a long period of time if it wasn't heartfelt. Gordon harbours bitter memories of being bullied by Marco when he landed his first job out of catering college--"He liked to jerk the apron strings round your neck"--while Marco probably resents being eclipsed by his former pupil. If you compare the reputation of Gordon's restaurants--Royal Hospital Road, the Boxwood Café, Claridges, the Connaught, Petrus, the Savoy Grill, Maze--with Marco's--Mirabelle, Drones, Quo Vadis, L'Escargot, Belvedere and the Frankie's chain--it's pretty clear who is on top.

"Marco could have been where I am quite easily," crowed Gordon in a recent salvo. "He had the talent but he didn't nurse it. It was all about him and not his talent." (Note the inflammatory use of the past tense, as if Marco had dropped dead of a heart attack the previous day and Gordon was pronouncing his verdict while standing over Marco's corpse.)

Of course, Gordon's current status as Britain's top chef won't last forever. Like Marco, he'll be robbed of his title by a brash young challenger--someone like Tom Aikens, the hot-tempered red head who won his second Michelin star at the tender age of 26. When that happens, will Gordon follow Marco's lead and hang up his Sabatiers? Or will he continue to compete?

Whatever he decides to do, there's no doubt that Marco will carry on lobbing brickbats at his old foe and Gordon will lob them straight back. As far as these two are concerned, it will always be eggbeaters at dawn.

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