August 2004

Michael Moore - Marylebone Maestro

Strolling down Blandford Street in Marylebone mid-afternoon and the sun has drawn pasty-faced sous chefs and pot boys from their subterranean lairs to smoke cigarettes and make phone calls out in the fresh air. Managers and waiters have dragged chairs to the pavement and are deep in briefing meetings. It's the lull before the evening storm and outside Michael Moore's, the last restaurant in the row, there is the man himself nursing a chilled glass of white wine and cheerfully watching the world go by. He gives the impression of a chef very much at ease and in control.

A sad loss to the fire brigade

We go inside for a chat, the restaurant is compact but good décor has made it seem larger. And Michael has plans to enlarge given how popular his restaurant has become not just with locals but with diners from across town, too. He is a man who has always had a plan from his very first days, even it seems as a small boy. 'I was one of a large West Indian family,' he explains, 'and a rather sickly child. I spent a lot of time sitting on my mother's hips watching her cook. Cooking in West Indian culture is a giving thing for family and friends and not a chore at all. As I sat and absorbed it all I think the seed of being a chef was sown.' So you never had an ambition to be a footballer or anything else? 'No, it was always cooking.' He stops and reflects for a second, 'Actually I did rather fancy being a fireman. I think I liked the uniform.' But as he grew up he realised that cooking ambition wasn't quite the normal thing amongst boys his age. 'It was seen as a bit effete or as something done by horrible great sergeant major types, all roaring and bullying to produce food to fill a belly and nothing more.'

A dedication to deliver

Of course all that has changed now and there are no shortage of boys and girls who wannabe chefs. 'That's good, 'Michael acknowledges, 'but it's also a problem. I have people coming in here all the time that want to be chefs, but after I sit down and have a chat with them it's obvious they're not serious. They just don't know the hard work, long hours and dedication involved.

I work six days a week - in at 8:30 off home at 2 in the morning, My only break is around this time of day and that's just an hour or two.'

Michael's CV shows a breadth of experience that today fuels his eclectic cuisine. Before opening his eponymous restaurant he travelled the world for fifteen years. From Chef de Partie under Anton Edelman at The Savoy he went to Hamburg. Then it was Switzerland and Canada, back to England and The Dorchester and then to Barbados as Executive Chef of a luxury resort.

Then to the Maldives, off to Berlin then back to England and the Circle Bar and Restaurant in Docklands. Finally Executive Group Chef for Simpsons of Cornhill overseeing fourteen restaurants. His passport was full of stamps so it was time to realise the dream and open his own place.

A dream come true

'Yes, cliché but true, it was my dream,' he confirms. 'I wanted to cook the food I wanted to cook and no one else's. And not to be an owner who is always away,' he adds firmly. 'I'm in the kitchen all the time, Not just cooking service but trying out new ideas, new combinations. All that travelling has given me so much to draw upon.' The kitchen in the restaurant is a far cry from the uber kitchens Michael has spent so much time in. 'It's small,' he laughs, 'and very hot. But there's just me and two others down there, We move around each other like ballet dancers, all our moves synchronised by experience. We do a lot of covers for a small kitchen but we stay cool despite the heat.'

Celebs welcome

Cool is the word and the restaurant draws in some famous faces. 'I'm not going to say who,' Michael says. 'I respect their privacy. I've worked in restaurants where the staff would alert the paparazzi when a celeb walked in. That's fine if the celeb is looking for the exposure but people come here just to eat and be as anonymous as possible. And anyway, I don't want customers coming here on the chance they might spot so and so. They're here for the food.'

Michael still finds time to do TV though and he's a natural, His gentlemanly demenour and professionalism finds favour with the camera and he's a regular on the BBC and Sky and has had a mini series. He is also involved in charity work, recently going to Germany to cook on a Ferrari's bonnet! He's also about to do in house teaching at Valentina Harris' cookery school in the Charente. All these things he fits in with as little disruption to the restaurant as possible.

So pop in to Michael's restaurant. Marylebone is one of the few places in London you can still park a car of an evening, the draconian regulations not yet extending here. Saturdays the local regulars are away 'at their weekend homes' and the clientele come from far away lured by remarkable fusion food and Michael's genuine warmth which always extends to him coming out for a chat with every table. 'I'm not looking for praise,' he insists. 'although that's nice. I want to see what people really think and find out where I could do better.' Well he couldn't do much better than he already is.