Everybody loves chef Raymond Blanc
On a recent holiday to Oxford, I had the chance to visit the two-Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, an iconic restaurant run by one of Britain’s most legendary chefs, Raymond Blanc. Born in Besançon in eastern France in 1949, Blanc is acknowledged as one of the world’s finest chefs. Known worldwide for his passion for sustainable cooking, he launched the Food Made Good campaign, which encourages a more responsible way of eating out. He believes food connects with everything—landscape, soil, heritage, health, and the kind of agriculture and society that we are creating for tomorrow. Blanc, who has taken part in several BBC television series, is also a best-selling author and runs The Raymond Blanc Cookery School, which has trained a roster of famous chefs, including Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White. The Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons was recently ranked No.2 on the 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards. It also holds a record for retaining its two Michelin stars for 36 years straight. One of the focal points of the restaurant is its gardens—Blanc has thriving herb beds with over 70 traditional and exotic varieties. A 2-acre vegetable garden produces over 90 types of vegetables. On my trip, I tried some signature dishes crafted from fresh, organic produce. Later, I got an opportunity to interact with the master chef himself. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Despite not being formally trained, you’ve achieved global acclaim. Do you think it’s important for a chef to attend a culinary school?
We all learn in different ways. I was my mother’s apprentice from a very young age. I worked as a minion, peeling and preparing vegetables, plucking chickens and so on, helping my mother with the simple creative act of cooking. I’m totally self-taught and have never worked under any chef. I learnt the seasons of the garden and the nobility of produce, I connected with the woods and fields, which were full of delightful wild produce, and partook in the feast of cooking and sharing around the table. Holding a frying pan in my hand at the age of 27 in a professional kitchen, I knew that my destiny lay in food.
Tell us about your role as president of the UK-based non-profit Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA)?
I’ve always been a campaigner of food ethics. As president, I help others play their part in embracing good ethics. I urge consumers to learn about the provenance (of ingredients), how food is produced, and actively challenge restaurants to match updated consumer values. Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from and what’s in it. It connects with our landscape, our soil, our heritage and our health. Chefs, restaurateurs and consumers can embrace these values and help create a better food chain.
You champion an ethical approach to cooking devoted to energy efficiency and recycling. Is it a tough balance to achieve in an industry driven by profits?
The SRA embraces values which demonstrate that good sustainability can translate into good business. For 40 years, I’ve cared passionately about sourcing and serving the best food. Lately, I’ve also sensed a movement in restaurants to meet their environmental/social responsibilities. Hundreds of chefs—from the Michelin-starred ones to those helming kiosks—are working with the SRA to improve the way they manage business.
You’re a chef, restaurateur, TV host. Which role do you enjoy most?
Of course, I am happiest in my kitchen, but I receive the most joy in seeing those I train master their craft and go on to enjoy their own success. It gives me great joy that 34 chefs from Le Manoir have gone on to achieve their own Michelin stars.
What’s your take on Indian cuisine?
I love spice. I tend towards fragrant, aromatic spices rather than those with heat. In my kitchens, we often create our own curry spice mix of coriander, turmeric, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon. It is used to flavour our scallop and cauliflower dish. I also love sweet tamarind.
What’s your toughest challenge as a chef?
Time is always my biggest challenge. There are never enough hours in a day!