Why Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing has a passion for Yorkshire Mangalitza pigs

Marcus Wareing has swapped his whites for his wellies as he gets to grips with his own smallholding for a new BBC series which includes a trip to buy some unusual Yorkshire pigs. Catherine Scott talked to him.

Marucs Wareing with his Magalitza pics from Yorkshire
Marucs Wareing with his Magalitza pics from Yorkshire Picture:BBC

Marcus Wareing spends most of his time behind the pass at his Michelin-starred restaurants or in the MasterChef kitchen. But a new BBC series follows him as he leaves his comfort zone behind, embraces a slower pace of life and gets stuck into creating a smallholding at his East Sussex home.

“I bought the house and land five years ago. I saw the land and the location but at that time I didn’t have the vision. My plan had been to clear it and start again,” he says.

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“But when we got started a couple of years ago, I realised that there were some amazing fruit trees and woodland and other things that just needed taming a bit rather than getting rid of altogether.”

Marcus Wareing with Yorkshire Magalitza pig breeder Lisa Hodgson Picture: BBC

With the help of his gardener, Wareing set about clearing the land before embarking on his project proper. “I wanted to really find the best pigs, hens, ducks, cows, bees, fruit and veg that the UK has to offer. I told my team what I wanted and they went out and researched across the UK.”

His first addition are some pigs but he needs to choose animals that will provide him with the best possible meat. With this in mind, he heads to Thirsk in North Yorkshire to meet Lisa Hodgson and her rare breed Mangalitza pigs which are famed for their deep flavour and fun personalities.

“They are the most incredible animals,” says Wareing. “You probably wouldn’t buy them if you saw them in a butcher’s shop because of all the fat but that’s what gives them the most amazing flavour. I want to show the viewers that by just occasionally spending a little bit more or not having perfectly shaped vegetables, you can eat the most amazing locally reared produce.

“But when I got the pigs home I realised that they were actually a part of the process and not just for their meat. They have also been unbelievable at eating everything in the woods and they have a job to do – and not just to be eaten.”

Marcua Wareing with his Yorkshire Mangalitza pigs back on his smallholding Picture: BBC

You get the feeling that Wareing is a little surprised himself at just how much he loves being outside getting his hands dirty. “It is like my oasis away from the stresses and strains of London. I feel it is such a privilege to be able to do what I am doing.”

It is almost full circle for the chef whose father was a fruit and vegetable merchant in Southport. From the age of 11, a young Marcus would help him after school and in the holidays, although his father was determined that his son should not follow in his footsteps and when he was 14, he told him in no uncertain terms.

“He became disillusioned with what was happening, particularly when it came to school meals and the cost-cutting and reduction in quality that was going on,” says Wareing.

He had another part-time job working for his brother who was a chef and lecturer at Southport College where Wareing trained until he headed to London at the age of 17.

“When I left home to become a chef, I was in the amazing position that I had all this experience of food purchasing and produce that others just didn’t have. We had this big warehouse full of fruit and veg and I learnt how to look after it, how to get the best out of it,” he says. “I didn’t go to London to become a Michelin-starred chef, to appear on television or to write cookery books.

“I went to London to work in the Savoy kitchen, and then another kitchen and another – learning all the time. The problem today is everyone is in such a hurry to get to the top but these things take time and I am still learning today.”

Things may take time, but he did receive his first Michelin star at just 26 – one of only a handful of chefs to be recognised at this age.

After the Savoy, he went to work for the famed chef Albert Roux at Michelin-starred Le Gavroche where he first met Gordon Ramsay. Stints at other restaurants in New York, Amsterdam and at Gravetye Manor in Sussex followed.

Wareing joined Ramsay’s Aubergine when it opened in 1993, becoming sous chef behind head chef Ramsay and going on to work with him over the course of the following 15 years, although their relationships did apparently become strained in later years.

Founded in 2008 with his wife Jane, Marcus Wareing Restaurants began with the opening of the Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in London (now known simply as “Marcus”). In 2011, he also opened the Gilbert Scott, an elegant restaurant and bar in St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. After a successful ten-year lease, he closed the Gilbert Scott in May 2021.

In the autumn of 2014 Wareing joined Masterchef: The Professionals, where he continues to act as judge and mentor to the next generation of British cookery talent. Last October, he published his ninth cookbook, Marcus’ Kitchen.

Over the last 30 years Wareing has been involved in the creation of some of London’s most- celebrated restaurants.

His father’s work ethic and his early experience working with quality produce never left Wareing who puts his success squarely at the feet of his father. “He taught me that the harder you work, the better you become and that is something in this era of social media that we seem to have lost. I do worry about the next generation.”

He says he wants Marcus Wareing’s Tales from the Kitchen Gardens to break down the barriers between farming and kitchen. It will explore where food comes from, how it grows, traditional and new farming methods and, most importantly, how to grow the very best fruit and veg, and what affects the taste of our food.

“As chefs, we are at the beautiful end but so much goes into rearing and growing the produce that we then turn into restaurant dishes. I want people to see that,” he adds.

Wareing cooks with the food producers he meets across the UK as well as back at home in his outdoor kitchen. “We are all guilty of cooking the same few dishes that we feel comfortable with so I thought why not let’s try some different things.

“This is me cooking things I have never cooked before – like a savoury apple pie based on an apple pie my mum used to make, but they are all the type of things I would cook at home for Jane and the kids. I am really pushing myself. I am really learning as I go along and I want people to learn with me.”

Marcus Wareing’s Tales from the Kitchen Gardens will be shown on BBC2 across two weeks, Monday to Friday at 6.30pm each day, starting this Monday.