Marco Pierre White to retire from the kitchen

MARCO PIERRE WHITE, the original enfant terrible of British cooking, announced yesterday that he would be hanging up his chef's hat at the end of the year.

The temperamental Yorkshire chef, who is famous for ejecting unwanted customers, wants to concentrate on expanding his restaurant empire and spend time with his family. He has two sons aged four and five with his partner Matilda, and one daughter from the first of two previous marriages.

White, 37, was the first British-born chef to be awarded three Michelin stars, the highest French honour for professional cooking. He will hand them back when he ceasesoverseeing service at The Oak Room in Le Meridien Hotel, London, on Christmas Eve. "I always said I would retire from cooking before I was 40," he said. "I will be 38, the age my mother was when she died. If someone told me I was going to live to 75 I might feel differently. I plan to open restaurants outside of London and I wish to explore the international market too. I simply can't do that chained to a stove."

Throughout his teens and early twenties, White worked his way up through the kitchens of Raymond Blanc, Nico Ladenis, Pierre Koffmann and Albert Roux, who became his mentor and fondly dubbed him the "little genius".

As well as The Oak Room, White runs London restaurants at The Criterion on Piccadilly, Mirabelle, Titanic, L'Escargot, The Big Chef, the Grill Room in the Cafe Royal, and Quo Vadis in Soho, which Damien Hirst used to co-own. The MPW Criterion Ltd , which White owns jointly with Granada plc, is estimated to be worth up to pounds 50m.

"I have been in the kitchen for 21 years and my love for restaurants will never die," White said. "A lot of people find it difficult to bow out at the top. I have achieved the ultimate of three Michelin stars. But it is much more exciting chasing the stars than defending them."

White, who is half Italian and half English, is almost as famous for his management style as his cuisine. On one occasion he sent away 50 diners from his restaurant. He claims to have grown out of such habits, but has no regrets. "Twelve years ago restaurants were very boring. I have helped to change all that," he said, adding that he now wanted "to take things up another level".

Earlier this year White suffered disappointment when he auctioned two millennium parties at the Mirabelle and Criterion. Both restaurants failed to reach their reserve price of pounds 90,000 each.

White, who trained Gordon Ramsay, the chef featured in Channel 4's Boiling Point, wanted to tell the Michelin inspectors of his decision to quit before they drew up next year's edition. He thanked them for supporting him throughout his career, saying: "Even during my wilder years they ignored press reports and simply judged me on my cooking."

WHITE'S WIT AND WISDOM

1987: "I might not be the best, but I am the prettiest."

On ejecting a critic from his restaurant: "You don't like me and I didn't like you. Please leave now, no bill will be submitted."

On hearing that his old boss, Nico Ladenis, had received his third star, he said: "Congratulations. I just want to ask you one thing? Did you get it for your eat-ins, or take-aways?"

Yesterday: "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."

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