THE CAREER of Marco Pierre White, the greatest living Englishman, continues to go from strength to strength. In an exclusive tete-a-tete with the Gastropod, Marco, who can no longer be called 'the Marlboro man' since he seems to have quit smoking, confirmed that he has acquired an interest in the Box Tree at Ilkley, where he started his illustrious career as a humble commis. An acolyte from Harveys, Michael Lumbie, has been sent to strengthen the kitchen brigade and 'give us the edge over our competitors'.

Mr White was circumspect over speculation that he is about to 'do a Nico Ladenis'. Ladenis, who, like White, has two Michelin stars, started the trend of haute cuisine chefs launching diffusion restaurants when he moved to Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane last year to open Nico at Ninety; his old premises in Great Portland Street then became Nico Central, offering a cheaper menu of less complicated food.

Marco already has his diffusion restaurant, the Canteen at Chelsea Harbour, and is now rumoured to be eager to move Harveys from the wilds of Wandsworth Common to the West End. Asked if he is on the point of making a deal to take over the dining-room of a major Park Lane hotel, however, the great man dissembled. 'That's for me to know and you to figure out,' he said, majestically.

THE GASTROPOD met Mr White at the launch of a quarterly magazine aimed at professional chefs called Gastronomia International. A hardbound publication with 100 glossy pages full of fetishistic food photography and fabulous recipes, each edition of GI (as it is bound to be known) will feature the work of three leading European chefs and is the brainchild of one of France's most famous chefs, Yves Thuries.

Among his many claims to fame, he is the proprietor of the three-star Le Grand Ecuyer at Cordes (70km from Toulouse) and the astounding Musee de l'Art du Sucre, where visitors can admire the artistry of the confiseur in a series of tableaux wrought entirely in sugar.

Thuries has a 10-volume culinary encyclopaedia to his credit as well as a monthly gastronomic review called Thuries Magazine. His recipes, in the style he calls la cuisine aux mille senteurs (food of a thousand fragrances) feature prominently in the first issue of GI, along with the work of Karl Wannemacher of Berlin and our very own Wizard of Wandsworth.

Spread over 25 full-colour pages, 14 of Marco's classics are displayed in all their glory, from the sublime oysters with scrambled egg and truffles to the ridiculous braised pig's head with bitter-sweet sauce ('Cut the pig's head in half, remove the tongue, blanche the head and tongue separately . . .')

This alone should make the subscription price of pounds 53.99 for four issues seem worthwhile to all those who shelled out good money for the portfolio of moody black-and-white shots of Marco in action that is White Heat. Interested readers can telephone or fax Betty Bitton on 081-907 9789 for a preview copy.

READERS will remember Michael Jackson's story in October about the bishop blessing Paul Theakston's Black Sheep Ale. Now St Michael has added his benediction. The rounded, malty brew is available at Marks & Spencer as St Michael Traditional Yorkshire Bitter (four 33cl bottles for pounds 3.49).

For those who prefer lager, Mr Jackson eulogises St Michael's Dry (four 50cl cans for pounds 3.99), which he emphasises is not one of those aggressively marketed Japanese-American 'dry' lightweights but a 'proper, hoppy Pilsner' from the Jever brewery in German Friesland.

Meanwhile, Oddbins has added yet another bottle-conditioned beer to its range. The flavourful, warming Festive ale from King and Barnes of Sussex costs pounds 1.39 per pint bottle.

MONDAY is St David's Day and the start of a fortnight-long festival of Welsh food, called 'Follow the Dragon'. Selfridges' food hall will be stocking all sorts of wonderful Welsh produce, such as leek-and-lamb sausages, cockles and laverbread. Meanwhile, half-a-dozen of the most accomplished Welsh chefs will be cooking at various London restaurants; for details of who's cooking where, collect a leaflet from Selfridges or ring Welsh Food Promotions on 0222 640456.

The Gastropod is piqued that he probably will not get to sample the cooking of Dai Davies, chef at the Bryn Howel Hotel, Llangollen, who recently won the Taste of Wales Chef of the Year competition with his exemplary Festival of Llangollen Lamb. This consisted of basil- scented sweetbreads, smoked kidneys, roast best end and liver dumplings presented in a potato coracle with a natural lamb sauce. Mr Davies will be serving this meaty feast in the exclusive surroundings of the Barry Room at the House of Lords.