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Pizza, pasta and a hint of Marco

PUBLISHED: 06:35 09 June 2014

The Chequers Inn in Thornham, with Marco Pierre White. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Chequers Inn in Thornham, with Marco Pierre White. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Marco Pierre White brings his own flavour of Italy to the north Norfolk coast this month.

The chef, restaurateur and TV personality already runs a series of pubs in the county and is gradually making his mark on them all. For the renamed Chequers Inn in Thornham he was keen to create a restaurant which echoed traditional Italian culture.

“I love Italian food. It is simple and satisfying, and there is very much a culture of everyone eating together round the table, adults and children. I want to create somewhere on the Norfolk coast which is affordable as a regular place to go to as a family as opposed to a one of treat. I want my menu to be authentic, proper modern Italian food. I didn’t want the poor 1950s interpretation of Italian,” he laughs. “I want the sort of food that you be served in an Italian city if you were to go out as a family.”

The pub is part of the former Maypole group which Marco took on three years ago. His other pubs in the county are the Wayford Bridge Hotel near Stalham, the Bridge Inn at Acle and also a second pub in Thornham, the Lifeboat Inn.

“We spent a lot of time developing The Lifeboat and I thought to myself why do want two places in the same village offering basically the same thing? So that’s why I decided to turn it into a family-orientated, casual Italian, serving fabulous pasta, pizza, gnocchi and ravioli. I want Mum in the village to take the two kids for pizza or a bowl of pasta and for it to be affordable. But whether you are a three-star Michelin chef or a small cafe, you have to justify what you are charging.”

As with the rest of his pubs and restaurants, he remains committed to using local seasonal produce wherever possible.

“There is a fantastic thriving cottage industry all over Britain now, with individuals producing great quality food and ingredients often on a very small scale. Farmers are being incredibly imaginative with what they are doing, as are fishmongers and butchers. I honestly think it is the best in Britain it has ever been.”

Marco is speaking from Melbourne where he is filming Australia MasterChef before returning home to put the finishing touches to The Chequers Inn. His career has been a colourful one. He was once the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars, but he was as famous for his firebrand reputation and quick temper. Yet in recent years – while that spark is undoubtedly still there – it appears Marco has mellowed and his success in the kitchen has been replicated as a television personality and restaurateur.

But does he miss the daily cut and thrust of the kitchen?

“My life now is so different to what it used to be. I am travelling all over the world, doing all these amazing, interesting things. When I started at 16 in my first kitchen, to be honest I never really questioned where my career would go.”

After leaving school in Leeds without any qualifications, he began working at a hotel kitchen in Harrogate. He admits that at that stage it was not part of any major plan or desire to be a chef.

“To be honest I just needed a job. It wasn’t until I went to work at the Box Tree in Ilkley in Yorkshire that I really discovered my passion for food.”

He arrived in London as a 16-year-old and began his classic training as a commis under Albert Roux and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche, and hasn’t looked back.

“It has been a long 36 years,” he sighs. “If I had to give advice to anyone thinking of becoming a chef I would just say make sure you put your career in the right hands, to someone who is going to guide you, protect you and show you the right way forward.”

For now, he is busy splitting his time between his numerous TV commitments and his pubs and restaurants, but he is pleased to have a reason for heading to our coast.

“I love Norfolk. I have a friend who lives in Garboldisham, so I always used to come to this area as a visitor and thought how beautiful it was.

“The success of the Lifeboat and hopefully The Chequers Inn has only been made possible by the fabulous staff and local support, so it is great being part of that. A pub belongs to the village, we are just the caretakers. I do pull the odd pint behind the bar, though I haven’t for a while – hopefully I will get the chance again when I am back.”

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