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Marco Pierre White dishes about his new 'The Chopping Block' series


By Christopher Rocchio, 03/11/2009 

Marco Pierre White claims he will not be a "performing seal" on The Chopping Block, however the acclaimed British chef thinks he will help the new NBC culinary competition series will set itself apart from others.

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"I do not perform for a camera. I am myself. I'm a great believer if you do reality TV then you have a duty to put reality into TV. If you don't do that, then what you're doing is questioning your integrity," White told reporters during a recent conference call.

"I didn't work 22 years in a kitchen as hard as I did to be a performing seal. I didn't set out to turn The Chopping Block into a circus. Some people may find it boring. Some people may find it interesting.  But the one thing that we do deliver is reality. And that's what reality TV should be all about. Bring reality into reality TV and those contestants trying to put reality into their lives by realizing their dreams."

The Chopping Block will premiere Wednesday, March 11 at 8PM ET/PT on NBC and pits eight couples against each other in a series of culinary challenges for the opportunity to win $250,000.

"When you step onto that stage, you know, given what you're given and all I would ever expect from a contestant is firstly to be there for the right reason, to be respectful, to be hard working," said White.  "And if they lose and that time for them to go is now, then exit gracefully. And if you do all those things you will walk out of the show with your head high."

The Chopping Block will begin with the eight couples being split into two teams consisting of four couples each.  Each team will then be given two empty, side-by-side restaurant spaces in the middle of Manhattan -- where they'll have less than a week to accomplish several tasks, including designing their space, planning a menu and generating publicity to ensure a crowd.

"The way you become a team is by every individual pulling the rope together, working together," explained White. "If you're not prepared to work with the people around you then what's going to happen is it's going to start to break down. And let's not forget a good chef works for others or should I say a good chef cooks for others."

The restaurants will then open at the same time and be competing for the same customers -- with a panel of food critics serving as judges and observing all the action before White decides which couples stay and which one is eliminated.

"[The judges] formed their opinions and they chose the winner, which is either the Black restaurant or the Red restaurant and then they loaded the gun and my job was to pull the trigger. And that's what I did," said White.

While the winning couple will receive $250,000 that could be used to start their own eatery, White offered some words of caution if they actually plan to do so in New York City -- which he called the most "gastronomic city capital of the world."

"It would be terrifying for me to open a restaurant in New York. Never mind one of my contestants. You'd have to be very brave," he told reporters.  "I think New York must be one of the toughest cities in the world to get it right today."

White is no stranger to British viewers, as he replaced Hell's Kitchen star Gordon Ramsay as the star of the original U.K. version of the Fox reality show when the U.K. version's third edition debuted in September 2007.

However White told reporters he "will not tolerate bad language" in his kitchen because he sees it as a "breakdown of discipline" -- which is a far cry from the way Ramsay, who actually worked for White early in his career, runs things.

"I will not tolerate anybody raising their voice unnecessarily. I will not accept lack of respect. A chef must be respectful. You have a job at hand to do and that is feed your customers to the best of your ability," he said.  "If somebody doesn't want to follow the rules, they want to be loud, if they want to be disrespectful, they wish to swear, then they have to go. They can't be part of that kitchen."

While White may not agree with the way Ramsay operates, he added that he has also reached a level of achievement that allows him to "conduct himself as he wishes."

"That's his choice... Gordon Ramsay achieved something many people will never achieve. They'll only dream of. But I like to think of Gordon for his greatness, not for his TV shows. He's a great cook." said White.

"It's quite interesting watching someone's legacy unravel. Because when everything's done and dusted those reels of film will be on the shelves. And will he be remembered for what he did in the kitchen or what he did on the TV?"

In addition, White also took exception to comments made by Ramsay in which he questioned the originality of The Chopping Block when compared to Hell's Kitchen.

"Originality is only original if you're the first. And I have seen nothing original there at Hell's Kitchen," he said.  "And if someone does steal one of their ideas what a great compliment. What a great compliment."

White said many of his family members -- including his grandfather, father, mother and a few uncles -- all had some type of culinary skill, which is why he had "very few options" when it came time to choose a career.

"I was from a very humble side of society... my mother died when I was six years old so therefore I didn't do particularly well at school so I had no qualifications. I could barely read and write when I left school," he explained.

"My father encouraged me to go into the restaurant business, the hotel industry for the simple reason is he said you will not make a lot of money but you'll always have a job because people always have got to eat. You'll be able to put food on your family's table and a roof over their head. And that's why I got into the food industry. I followed my family's tradition."

Like Ramsay, White achieved a sort of rock-star status in Britain when his culinary talents were recognized at an early age.

"When I was a young boy I had a dream. And that dream was one day to win three stars in the Michelin guide, to be the first British chef, the youngest in the world to do that," he said.  "I stayed focused for many years. And one day I won my three stars. I realized my dream."

Despite realizing a dream, White said he had no problem giving those stars away when he realized that appeasing food critics wasn't all it's cracked up to be.

"Let's not forget it's one person's opinion," he told reporters.  "The reason why I gave back my (stars) and I retired was because I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me. If you're really honest with yourself, what's it all worth? Very little."

White said he got involved with The Chopping Block after participating in the U.K.'s version of Hell's Kitchen changed his opinion of television.

"For many, many years I refused to do TV. And then I did a show in England called Hell's Kitchen. And after Hell's Kitchen I was then approached by (Krunell) USA and NBC whether I would come to doing the show Chopping Block," he explained.

"They sat with me on the phone and we had a chat and a conversation and so therefore I agreed to do the show but it was all in the strength of Hell's Kitchen U.K."

Since he once had a dream to open his own restaurant, White said he felt The Chopping Block was a good medium for him to help others achieve that goal.

"The couples that were chosen for the show were all very hard working. And they all came with a dream to win a restaurant. And what's interesting about a show like Chopping Block, you know, what you see is timing is a great thing. And you see after program, one program, two program, three, you start to see people's true colors," he told reporters.

"Even though they were hard working, you start to see that some people are there for the wrong reason. They start to turn that dream into a nightmare."

Similar to the way he handled any other up-and-coming stars in the culinary world, White said all he did for The Chopping Block's contestants was share his dream, story and philosophy to help them have a recipe for success when it comes to cooking.

"I was just one little stepping-stone on the way. That's what I was. Just like the contest that's on Chopping Block. All I wanted them to do was enjoy the ride knowing full well that [seven] couples would not win," he told reporters.
 
"But if they can take something from that moment, if they can take a little bit, they can enrich their life, then I've done my job. As I said to them all, when it's time to go walk away gracefully with your head high and you'll be a winner. There's only one restaurant."

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