John Walsh: Cut with Gordon's sharp tongue, a protégé escapes hell's kitchen

Click to follow

There's something Oedipal, even Shakespearean, about Marcus Wareing's eclipsing of his former mentor and boss, Gordon Ramsay, in the hierarchy of top London restaurants. It's part of a syndrome in which a former protégé rises to match, then overtake, his beloved master. It happened with Gordon Ramsay who, after enduring years of training, abuse and belittling by Marco Pierre White, left him to go it alone, and comprehensively outclassed him in stars and media recognition.

But the Wareing-Ramsay split is different. It's far more intense. For one thing, the men are more than professional rivals. They were best friends when Marcus was 19 and Gordon 22. Gordon was best man at Marcus's wedding. Marcus was the first chef Gordon employed, at Aubergine in Fulham, west London. And he was the first chef to resign from Gordon's dark, malevolent influence, rather than being fired. That parting of the ways hit the fiery Ramsay amidships.

A long-faced, smiley, sensitive-looking Lancastrian, who writes easy-peasy cookbooks and is often photographed with his children, Wareing doesn't seem cut from the same mould as the rough Ramsay. But their similarities are startling. Wareing's kitchen technique was just as foul-mouthed and overbearing as his mentor's. "I was very unapproachable, very strict, very self-disciplined," he told Waitrose Food Illustrated last year. "I bollocked people like Gordon did. I tasted my sauces like Gordon. I couldn't get him out of my head." To relax in the evenings, he took up boxing.

After working as Ramsay's sous-chef at Aubergine, Wareing took over the Grill Room at the Savoy, which had been acquired by his old boss. Also under the Ramsay umbrella was Petrus, in the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, where Wareing became head chef in 2005. Both appointments were successful: the Savoy Grill picked up the only Michelin star in its 100-year history, and Petrus was awarded two stars (and five AA rosettes). One can imagine Ramsay's mixed feelings as he watched his surrogate kid brother and best pupil breathing down his neck.

Ramsay is famously proud of having London's only three-star restaurant, and Wareing is determined to match him. "I'm not going to be stopped from having my piece of the cake," he said. "Gordon's an important part of my life, although half of me thinks he's a sad bastard... [He] is not really part of the industry now. He's a major celebrity."