by Dominic Rolfe
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
Hospitality will always mean that relationship that is formed around the table – it hasn’t moved much since the kitchen table at home with the camaraderie, the buzz, the preparation and the food arriving. That’s what I always aim for and no matter what trickery, what fancy theatrics or where my ego is at that point, you still have to feed people. People are coming to be fed and you have to remember that.
That’s some part of the success – you have to remember that you’re feeding people. You’re not saving the forests, you’re a cook and it’s a trade, a craft.
Marque’s been around for almost 17 years now, I’ve been cooking for 25 years and I think that you certainly change. I went into hospitality as an angry young man, worked out my issues, brought some wisdom and tried to not grow into an angry old man.
Now I intrinsically understand more about what I’m trying to achieve and what I’m putting on the plate. I feel that I have my own voice and I’m comfortable in that. But there’s always striving within that because of the ephemeral nature of what you’re doing. Cooking is a moveable thing, your perception changes everyday.
Did you have a mentor?
When I started out, my mentors were those people that took an active role in my life. I worked early on with Alain Passard [at L’Arpége in Paris] and he was my mentor, my Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder – I’d always wonder what he’d think about what I was doing.
There were also people like Gay Bilson saying things like “it’s what you take off, not what you put on a plate.” Later on, people like Ferran Adrià saying things like “All ingredients are equal.” He pretty much laid the groundwork for what’s going on now – that a piece of seaweed is as important as a lobe of foie gras.
These are the little philosophies – as well as things like “Being creative is not copying” – that drive what we do at Marque as well as a lot of my peers.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
When we opened Marque we were aiming to be a small suburban bistro. But as we grew more proficient in the craft, the goals changed. We never went from that early goal to wanting to get onto the international stage. The ambition was always just slightly ahead of where we were.
I’m naturally ambitious. I’ve got an itch, I put on my hair shirt everyday – who knows where it comes from. But there’s always that drive to do something better.
I’m also cursed with a sour, disapproving resting face so I’m trying to change that a bit. And I’m finding that people are now starting to gravitate towards me! But after a while, you become reconciled with what you do, you’re happy with your work and you’re proud of it. You reach a point where you’re not trying to prove things to other people.
Do you have a piece of advice for current chefs starting out?
Don’t try to be a superstar. Realise that you’re signing up for relentless hard work and that’s the only way to achieve something truly meaningful. As long as you can rationalise that and realise it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle choice because it’s going to take up most of your life. And try not to let too many relationships go through to the keeper as you pursue your dream.