Hit & Run: The Tao of Marco
Tuesday 28 April 2009
He's a wizard," gushed the former Dynasty star Linda Evans, adding, "He's irresistible – a complex man with fascinating qualities." Gary Lineker's missus, Danielle Bux, said: "When he talks he's totally captivating. What is going through that crazy head?" And this from the married Bottom star Ade Edmondson: "There's something very sexy about people who use their hands like that – in that kind of venal way. He's like a wild animal."
Marco Pierre White. Never has a star of reality TV inspired so many celebrities to spew so much praise. The tousle-haired, keffiyeh-wearing chef last night announced the winner of the fourth series of ITV's Hell's Kitchen (my money at the time of writing was on Edmondson). Telly won't be the same without White's impression of a culinary Mystic Meg meets Obi-Wan Kenobi.
His aphorisms, which he delivers with the same slow deliberation you imagine him applying to his signature "truffled parsley soup with poached eggs", range from the profound ("To reach great heights, you have to find great depths within yourself") to the baffling ("A tree without roots is a piece of wood. A cricket bat with roots is only a tree.") and the deranged ("I need my toast, I need my toast, I need my toast. Toast, toast, toast, toast.")
White's dictums separate the chef from his Hell's Kitchen predecessor, Gordon Ramsay, whom White famously reduced to tears when Ramsay was his protégé. Both are kitchen devils who happily plunge figurative forks into the wide eyes of celebrity contestants, but while Gordon does it shoutily with curses, White is a more thoughtful kitchen God.
"You didn't let me down," he quietly informed Jody Latham while sacking the Shameless actor on day seven, "You let yourself down." His piercing eyes raised the volume when he told contestants: "You load the gun... I pull the trigger. It's time to bite that bullet, people." When one hapless chef had burned dinner, the stony-faced White declared: "A watch is a guideline, it's not a rule."
And there's a lesson here for Ramsay – White's measured approach is no less watchable and gets results; he's turned people who struggled to knock sandwiches together into cooks you'd happily let into your own kitchen.
But the pair have one thing in common. For all White's brooding reflection, his ego is just as inflated as Ramsay's. Despite once telling an interviewer "the most poisonous sauce in any kitchen is a chef's ego", White has also said (on handing back his three Michelin stars in 1999 after becoming the youngest chef, aged 33, and first Briton, to achieve the honour): "I am being judged by people who have less knowledge than me, and that's why I abdicated."
It has been reported in the past few days that this series of Hell's Kitchen will be White's last. Good news for Ramsay fans, perhaps, and there's only so much celebrity ego-basting that can be healthy. But for kitchen-sink philosophers inspired by the Tao of Marco, celebrity chefdom will be a poorer place. Simon Usborne
Why zombies are this year's monster smash
Like zombies themselves, books and films about the undead come in waves. Flesh-eating zombies – immortalised in George A Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead – have become the chattering classes' monster du jour. One reason is Los Angeles-based writer Seth Grahame-Smith's novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, currently climbing the US bestseller list. It's about an English family marrying off their daughters while fighting legions of zombies – a humourous change from the po-faced vampire obsession which has gripped the public thanks to Buffy through Twilight. "We live in an age when it's very easy to be afraid of everything," Grahame-Smith told a newspaper last week. "There are groups of faceless people in the world who mean to do us harm. Zombies are familiar territory."
And they're taking over the entertainment industry – Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody is producing Breathers: A Zombie's Lament, and undead videogame Resident Evil 5 has been sold four million copies since its release in March. If you're a zombie novice, Max Brooks (whose undead thriller World War Z is set to be directed by Quantum of Solace's Marc Forster) has some advice. "Be sure to have two emergency flares, a signalling mirror, daily rations, a mess kit and two pairs of socks on you at all times," he writes in The Zombie Survival Guide. But can socks protect us from the hoards of copycats that will flood book shops and cinemas over the next few months? It's going to be harder to kill a money-making dead cert than with mere hosiery. Rob Sharp
Stuck inside a venue with the Dylan blues again
Obsessive fandom is part of growing up: the poster-covered bedroom, the graffiti-scrawled exercise books, the hanging onto a musician's every utterance. What can be made of such behaviour when it is displayed by middle-aged Bob Dylan acolytes?
At the weekend, the day after his huge concert at the O2 arena, Dylan staged a "fans-only" concert at the London Roundhouse. Open only to those 'Bobists' who regularly visit his official website, the unseated show was intimate by any standards. Security was tight, tickets were to be collected in person, and wristbands had to be worn by all attending. Doors opened at 7pm, but queueing began at 11am. Sitting on the grubby Chalk Farm pavement for eight hours was, apparently, a small price to pay for proximity to Him.
With show time approaching, the Dylan fans fiercely guarded their patches. I saw at least three fights break out. "I've been queuing for hours to get this spot and you're not going in front of me," barked one man, as an upstart brazenly attempted to squeeze past. Others were prepared to commit the crime of pushing to the front. Such acts were met with resistance as balding Bobists adopted bodybuilder stances.
It's worth remembering a lyric from the title track of Slow Train Coming, I thought: "They talk about a life of brotherly love/ show me someone who knows how to live it," sings Dylan. All can say to that is: quite. Simmy Richman
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