The renowned chef, Raymond Blanc, talks to Oonagh Turner about the evolution of British food and favourite London restaurants
Tell us about leaving France and coming to England
I left France in 1972 to come to England and was excited to arrive in Oxford. A city I had heard so much about. I was not disappointed, Oxford was truly beautiful. I also have an apartment in London, in Marylebone, which is a great place to be. It’s a small apartment but it’s perfect, with a balcony that I have my plants and herbs on.
I spend time in the city working at Brasserie Blanc but I can also easily hop on the train back to Le Manoir [aux Quat’ Saisons, where Blanc is chef patron]. London is a wonderful place, I enjoy walking around at the weekend and visiting some of the lovely restaurants. Some of my favourites include Zuma and Roka for Japanese. For tapas, it’s Barrafina. I recently had a delicious afternoon tea at The Cadogan. I also love Trinity in Clapham by Adam Byatt, and Bibendum by Claude Bosi. London is a truly multi-cultural centre of creative excellence with so many talented chefs.
How has the British food scene changed since your time in the industry
When I arrived in the 1970s, the British food scene was very different, totally unrecognisable to now. The United Kingdom was simply not a nation of food-lovers. Good food was available but it was class-led and exclusive. Now it’s so different and there is
a real celebration of proper, authentic food.
The revolution in food in the country has largely been down to British consumers. People are so much more food-aware and curious. They want to know what’s in their food and realise the extent to which food connects with everything, it is now part of British culture.
How did your life in France impact your cooking?
Looking back at life in France I have so many wonderful memories. I lived with my parents and my brothers and sisters – we were five children and we lived in the village of Soane, perched above Besançon in Franche Comte. My family was not well off, but I would not have swapped my childhood for all the riches in the world.
We could run from our house and within minutes be in the forest. We played for hours, foraging, creating catapults, bows and arrows. Around us, there was amazing food – in summer, we were surrounded by wild fruits; raspberry and blackberry plants. We ate lots but also took buckets home to Maman Blanc and she did her magic. Happy days.
I do return to France often, especially Paris and the south. I love to see friends and family and catch up with my friends who are also chefs, such as Pierre Gagnaire. Pierre is one of the best chefs in Europe. His Paris restaurant has three Michelin stars. I love his approach and sensitivity to food.
Each time I visit Paris I discover somewhere wonderful – a great new café, or a small bistro with a lot of character. But the best thing about Paris is the wonderful food markets. They are some of the best in the world. They are all about proud artisans selling fresh, local produce.
How can we all do our bit to help the hospitality industry recover?
There is no greater time that we need more young people to get into the food and hospitality industry. Since Brexit and the pandemic, our industry is struggling and we need to make people aware that this is a fun and exciting industry to work in.
There are some truly wonderful people we work alongside who are doing so much to try to get our voices heard and hope that people will think of this as a career choice.
For me, planting, growing and creating food that I can serve my friends and family is the most wonderful gift I can offer. We work hard to learn what we can grow, how we can use it, the tastes and then the happiness and memories left for those we serve.
We pride ourselves on the training we provide staff at Le Manoir – something that cannot be overlooked. I am lucky to have so many of my team still with me since we opened 36 years ago, like my head gardener Anne-Marie Owens, and Mark Peregrine, director of The Raymond Blanc Cookery School, to name a few.
The most important thing is to be curious – open your mind and open your heart. Be intuitive, receptive and ask thousands of questions. Even today, I’m still curious about life.