Meet the chef: One of the world’s most respected chefs, Raymond Blanc, talks to Natasha Heard
Born in Besançon, France in 1949, Raymond Blanc is acknowledged as one of the finest chefs in the world. His exquisite cooking has received tributes from every national and international guide to culinary excellence.
Raymond has cooked up an impressive list of prestigious awards and accolades during his illustrious career, including two Michelin stars at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.
Natasha Heard, food and drink editor at Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, talks to Raymond about his reasons to move to England in the first place, his favourite restaurants in the UK and his plans for the future.
What brought you to Oxfordshire and how did you come to set up Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons?
I began my career in England in 1972 as a waiter and never looked back. I opened my own restaurant at the age of 28, ‘Les Quat’ Saisons’ in Oxford, and within just one year the restaurant had reached Michelin Star status.
In 1984 I fulfilled my dream and created the hotel and restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, an indulgent, yet joyfully informal setting to savour gourmet cuisine and relax in charming, stylish surroundings. Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the only hotel restaurant to have achieved and maintained two Michelin Status for over 30 years and the only property outside of London (and one of only three in the country) to sustain 5 AA Rosettes for that period of time.
What have you got coming up at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons?
Music is one of my big inspirations and this year will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the much anticipated Raymond Blanc Festival of Music, which takes place in the intimate setting of the neighbouring 12th century St Mary’s Church.
The Raymond Blanc Festival of Music is well established, showcasing many internationally acclaimed artists from the worlds of opera, classical music and jazz and the 2016 festival will offer music aficionados the ultimate opportunity to witness the world’s most successful UK jazz artist Jamie Cullum and prolific classical crossover artist Katherine Jenkins in almost complete privacy.
I am delighted and honoured that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Raymond Blanc Festival of Music with two very dear friends in the music industry. This is such a unique event and offers a rare chance to get close and personal with some of the highest calibre artists in the music industry; guests will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to not only witness Jamie and Katherine perform, but to have dinner and mingle with both artists after their performances.
My team and I are always looking ahead to the future. I have been working with my team in the Raymond Blanc Cookery School on new courses for 2016. Remember, we were the very first UK cookery school within a two Michelin star restaurant. We have always been driven by ethical, environment, seasonal and regional values. Now I have created even more specialist courses with Nutritionist, Natalia Traxel, to focus on such areas as gluten free, skin and beauty and allergies.
Aside from music and cooking, what are some of your other passions? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love gardening and I am always wandering around the gardens at Le Manoir and speaking with the gardeners to see what varieties are growing well and what challenges they are facing. Since I was a child, I worked in my parents’ garden whilst my friends played in the park but I loved it and since then I have never stopped loving it. I dug, I planted, I watered, I picked and I learnt from my Maman to cook. What a wonderful teacher she was. So for me, cooking and gardening are my passion.
I love to go back to my native France, and my beloved town of Besançon. Visiting my parents with my sons and catching up with old friends is the best past time. And fishing, I love fishing.
I understand you’ve travelled a lot, how has the travel influenced your style of cooking and dishes, if at all?
In Asia lemongrass is like our mint, there is plenty of it everywhere. It has its own flavour, smell, character; it is very different from all lemon plants that I know. It was my trip to Thailand and Malaysia that inspired me to try growing lemongrass in the gardens at Le Manoir. But it took some time to get it right. I had to try 25 varieties before I could find one that could resist the British weather.
Where are some of your favourite places to travel?
I go to the South of France with my family each summer if I can – we eat, we talk, we laugh. I love it and look forward to it always. I love going to the food markets, chatting to local people – we try local wines and eat cheese, lots of cheese!
Where are some of the best places to eat in the UK?
I like to try new restaurants. I spend a lot of time in London for work and meetings so I enjoy eating in town, but of course there are my favourites. Maybe it’s because I know these chefs and many trained with me here at Belmond Le Manoir. So you will often see me at restaurants such as Dabbous (chef Ollie Dabbous), Grain Store (chef Bruno Loubet) and Texture (chef Agnar Sverrisson). Outside of London I am also a big fan of The Whitebrook, Chris Harrod’s Michelin star restaurant in the Wye Valley.
What would be your last dinner?
Steak Maman Blanc, spinach, cheese and bread with red wine.
As well as running a restaurant, you’ve written many cookbooks and hosted several television series. How has the popularity in cooking programmes and televised chef competitions affected the restaurant industry?
I’m a chef and I’ll always be a chef. Being a ‘celebrity’ has sort of just come with being on television. For me, I chose to do television because it provides a platform of education. Being a self-taught chef myself, I wanted to give that chance to young people. That being said, now more than ever it’s easier to make quality dishes in your own kitchen and I think celebrity chefs had a part in that. It’s de-mystified cooking to the general public and that’s what’s made it so big today.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the epitome of luxury, do you enjoy the finer things in life
I am lucky that I can enjoy going to some lovely places – I eat in some fantastic restaurants and stay in wonderful hotels. Yet the finest thing for me is being with my family – if it is together at home, at my family home in France or just being in the car travelling somewhere – this to me is a very fine life.
This autumn, Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star restaurant and hotel Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the much anticipated Raymond Blanc Festival of Music. Jamie Cullum will perform on Wednesday 5 October and Katherine Jenkins will perform on Thursday 6 October. The evening begins at 6.45pm and dinner is served at 9.15pm. Tickets start from £450 per person. For further details and reservations, telephone 01844 277484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, visit belmond.com/lemanoir