A tête-à-tête with Raymond Blanc
Despite having never been formerly trained, Raymond Blanc is one of the finest and most recognised chefs in the world. Not only that, but within a year of opening his first restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, it was awarded a Michelin Star – pretty amazing!
We were lucky enough to catch up with him for a one-off interview about food festivals, food trends, cooking at home and more…
1. We all have particular dishes that make us think of home and being young. Do you have a particular dish that makes you think of childhood?
My earliest memory is of Maman Blanc's apple tart. It was a glorious thing, made of shortcrust pastry to which she'd add apples, then bake; then add sugar, butter, cream and eggs, and bake some more. I was only three when I tasted it but it's not something you forget.
2. What is your favourite current food trend?
When I came to England in the 70s it was the worst time for food. Everything was processed, intensively farmed and people believed it was OK to buy cheap food. Baked beans represented the tinned food culture I found myself in and that's why I dislike them to this day. And malt vinegar as I remember my first fish and chips were soggy and drowned in it. Thankfully we've moved on since then. I just love fresh, seasonal, good and tasty produce.
3. What never goes out of fashion?
Fashion never goes out of fashion!
4. Is what you cook at home different to what you cook in the kitchen? In what way?
When I get home after an 18-hour day cooking at Le Manoir, I make myself a simple omelette with cheese, pour a glass of burgundy and feel happy. After sampling hundreds of dishes you crave clean, simple tastes.
5. What advice can you offer self-taught chefs?
I knew I wanted to become a chef the night I looked up at a restaurant terrace in my hometown of Besancon, and saw lovers eating under the moonlight. It was the maitre d’ that caught my eye, serving and moving deftly like he was in a ballet – the heart of the whole performance. Oh la la, it was so powerful. I knew then, at 19, I wanted to be the creator of that experience, the chef who cooked the food. I had to work hard, listen, learn and always be curious. To be thought of as someone who created special and unforgettable moments for people.
6. What is your favourite restaurant to visit?
I love Dabbous. Oli Dabbous has a good head on his shoulders and is a real talent.
7. What is your favourite season and why?
Each of the seasons has so much to offer.
8. What is your favourite part of being at a food festival?
If I wasn't a chef I'd be a gardener, although I had often dreamt of being a pianist, and tried for seven years, which was a disaster. It was pure vanity: I wanted to be a great chef and have another talent and had this dream that people would come from around the world to eat my food and then I'd burst out of the kitchen, throw down my apron and take to the grand piano. I gave an organist friend a recording of mine, not saying who it was. He said: 'That guy is a butcher, he should stop playing the piano!' So, going back to your question – I love the diversity of the local produce at this festival.
9. Other than Thame, what other food festivals will we find you at this year?
10. Is there any dish that you dislike cooking?
There is not a dish that I dislike cooking. The strangest thing I've ever eaten was live eels in Japan. They were served in the most elegant way by a Geisha in a beautiful silk gown who brought a huge bowlful of electric, silver jumping eels. She scooped some in a net, added rice vinegar and sake and then I had to swallow them without chewing. They don't slide easily down your throat, they jump – it was very weird.
11. Are there any kitchen gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
A pressure cooker. This is one gadget I could not do without. I love them so much I developed my own! We all have busy lifestyles and it is often difficult to have the time to put together a delicious, healthy meal for your family. Using my pressure cooker reduces conventional cooking times by up to 70%, but not only that, you need less water / wine / stock in your cooking and because of the reduced cooking time you retain more of the vitamins and minerals in your vegetables. You also save energy. Less time cooking, more time with your family and friends. Voilà.