Many know Marcus Wareing best for his measured – often tough – critique on Masterchef: The Professionals, delivered with those unnervingly steely blue eyes and leaving experienced chefs wishing they’d never dared serve the acclaimed restaurateur a panna cotta without the correct amount of wobble.
The 49-year-old has spent five years on the BBC show – an appointment he says has been his career highlight – with Gregg Wallace and Monica Galetti. He’s also just released his seventh book, runs three restaurants (his flagship Marcus at The Berkeley has one Michelin star, after losing its second one earlier this year) and, right now, he’s fired up.
Marcus Wareing on plastic waste
“I cannot believe the amount of plastic waste we throw away as a family because of supermarkets. It’s insane. It drives me crazy. We have a massive, massive issue here and it really needs stopping and stamping out,” he declares. “Don’t get me going on plastic!”
He finds kitchen food waste just as intolerable – and there’s as little as possible of it in the Wareing household – an issue he’s tackling in his new cookbook, Marcus Everyday.
Food waste in the kitchen
“I hate waste. My father is a fruit and potato merchant, we never threw anything away. As a chef, you’re taught to look at produce, to nurture it, to store it well, and you don’t throw things away. That’s been ingrained in me.”
Wareing says he and his wife Jane “talk about it all the time” – about how best to avoid waste and what they can use up at home. “We don’t have money to waste,” says the chef. “I don’t, that’s for sure! And I’m certain a lot of people out there in the world don’t. So don’t waste your food.”
It’s not always easy though, to be a savvy shopper and organised enough to use absolutely everything in the fridge before there’s a tinge of green, as many of us know. “We’re not perfect,” he concedes. “We still have to work at it.”
His new recipes for less food waste include Tuscan-style panzanella, frittata with piquant fruit chutney and sticky banana pudding with rosemary. Even past-its-best milk doesn’t need to be chucked; that’s right, you can turn it into homemade ricotta (with a radicchio, orange and dill salad). “It’s not dangerous,” Wareing assures. “It’s simple and straight-forward.”
He acknowledges that it’s “easy for me to say because I’m a chef, and it’s something I’m used to. But I want to reflect on the importance of what we purchase when we go out shopping.
How to savvy shop and avoid food waste
“Don’t shop on your way home from work, don’t shop when you’re hungry, because you buy more food than you need and you’ll buy food to eat straight away. Look in your fridge before you go, write down what you’ve got. Preserve things, freeze things.
“If you just do a good shop once a week or once a fortnight, and you’ve bought things with a bit of thought, you’ll always find something to eat.”
The new book is made up of chapters that might surprise, one going against the recipe book grain for dishes for two, four or six plus people, and aimed squarely at those cooking only for themselves – like the croque monsieur with homemade béchamel, or butter-roasted cauliflower with capers and parsley.
Wareing is no stranger to cooking for one, particularly during the earlier years after long kitchen shifts (he worked under Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine). “I was either at work or came home and no one was there,” he says. “I restricted myself from going anywhere when I was in the height of my growth in the industry, so there were times when I was home alone, and I didn’t want to eat rubbish and I certainly didn’t want a takeaway.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are like that and come home after work and there’s no one there,” he says, rather refreshingly.
Taking care of yourself and your wellbeing
It can be tempting not to make any effort just for yourself, especially during the week, he agrees (there’s a section in the book on weekday suppers). “That’s the biggest problem. They think, ‘Oh well, it’s only me, I’ll sit in front of the TV and have a convenience meal, or I’ll call Deliveroo’.
“Even if you do it once or twice a week, you’ve got to look after yourself – do it for yourself.”
So does he see cooking for yourself as a kind of self-care? “Absolutely, I do. Like going to the hairdressers or buying yourself a new pair of shoes, it’s the same thing – we love food, we know we enjoy it. Just make a little bit more effort.”
Family man Wareing now splits his time between his main home in Wimbledon, south west London, and a country house in East Sussex with a kitchen garden, where his three children – Jake, 18, Archie, 15, Jessie, 12 – congregate at the weekends, mostly in the kitchen by the sounds of it.
“When you pick things you grow yourself, it’s quite extraordinary, it’s a level of freshness that no shop of supermarket can give you,” he says. And one element of the book is recipes conjured up from what’s grown in his patch of garden in East Sussex; think crispy courgettes with goats’ cheese and lavender honey, or roasted Jerusalem artichokes with prunes, lentils and sour cream.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his children sound pretty accomplished in the kitchen too.
“They can all cut, chop, wash up, stack a dishwasher, they can make cakes, fry a steak, make a steak sandwich, cook an English breakfast, make scrambled egg, you name it! It’s because I pull them into the kitchen, and my wife certainly does, she wants to make sure that when our kids leave home, they can cook.”
Who’s the head chef at home? “Of course Jane’s the head chef!” he says with a laugh. “No, we’re a team, when I close the door I’m not a chef in a restaurant, there’s no hierarchy when I cook, I just have fun.”
Although, he adds: “I might criticise someone for getting something wrong.”
That sounds more like the Marcus Wareing we know.
Marcus Everyday by Marcus Wareing, photography by Susan Bell, is published by HarperCollins, priced £20. Available now.
Want to explore food for the year ahead? Read Wise Living’s guide to the food trends for 2020.