A quiet exit for the bad boy of British cuisine

THERE WAS no fanfare, no emotional goodbye or even thank you. Marco Pierre White, Britain's most flamboyant and notoriously bad-tempered chef, simply worked his last shift, cooked his last restaurant meal and left by the back door.

His low-key departure from the Oak Room in London marked the retirement from cooking after 21 years of a man who did more than most to raise the profile of the celebrity chef.

A prodigy, who five years ago became the youngest chef to receive three Michelin stars, he plans to spend more time with his family and expand his business, opening new restaurants outside London and abroad. From today the stars will be returned to Michelin, the prices will go down at the Oak Room, in Le Meridian Hotel, and Mr White's former assistant chef, Robert Reid, will take over the kitchen.

A spokesman for Mr White said he had decided not to mark his departure. "It will be a normal night for the customers. He is not going to come out of the kitchen and make a big farewell speech. If there is someone he knows in the restaurant he may come out and sit with them for a few moments and sign their menu but he is more likely to finish work and go round to the Titanic for a drink. He doesn't want to make a fuss."

After Christmas, which he will spend with his family - he has two sons aged four and five with his partner Matilda, and one daughter from the first of his two previous marriages - Mr White, 37, will concentrate on overseeing the menus at his eight other restaurants, including Titanic, the Mirabelle, Criterion, Quo Vadis and the Grill Room. When he announced his "retirement", he said: "I have always said I would retire from cooking before I was 40. I have been in the kitchen for 21 years and my love for restaurants will never die."

For a man who professes to be shunning the limelight Mr White's profile has been remarkably high over the past year. First there was the argument with his former collaborator at Quo Vadis, Damien Hirst, a dispute with Oliver Peyton, owner of the Atlantic, who sued him, claiming that Mr White's Titanic Bar was a copy of his own. The matter was settled before it came to court. He then starting doing his own paintings, which were not unlike those of Hirst, and finally, and very publicly, sold one of his former friend's works of art at Sotheby's .

Born on a Leeds council estate, Mr White worked his way up through the kitchens of Raymond Blanc, Nico Ladenis and Albert Roux, who nicknamed him "little genius". He was 26 when he opened his first restaurant, Harvey's, where he collected the first two of his Michelin stars. In 1995 he moved to the Hyde Park Hotel, where he gained his third star.

As he summed it up recently: "I shall continue to write cookery books, continue not to appear on television and continue not to dine in other people's restaurants unless I'm thinking of buying them."