Everybody loves Raymond: InBath speaks to @raymond_blanc about his career and how French cuisine is still the template for gastronomic excellence.
Raymond Blanc is one of the most respected chefs in Britain today. Entirely self-taught, he is the owner of the two Michelin starred, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons as well as the high street chain, ‘Brasserie Blanc’.
Craig Maplesden caught up with Raymond to talk about his ethos, the resurgence of British food and how French cuisine is still the template for gastronomic excellence.
As part of our summer issue, we are focusing on French Cuisine. Can you tell us a little about Besançon, where you grew up in eastern France? What dishes you grew up with and what were the typical ingredients used?
My cooking is very much inspired by my Maman, at home and in my restaurants – she is my hero and where my inspiration for my cooking came from. We were working class, but we ate like kings. She taught me all about not wasting food, the importance of seasonality and generosity so I make it simple, delicious and seasonal.
We used to eat everything from the countryside when I was growing up – wild mushrooms, rabbit, duck – as a boy I would collect fresh produce from the garden and forage further afield with a map of my father’s then watch Maman go to work creating family meals, full of fl avour and so full of love. I also love making snails bourguignon and Mediterranean fish soup. I grew up eating these delicacies in France. The smells and textures of each dish evoke strong childhood memories. For dessert, it has to be Maman’s simple and delicious apple tart.
What are your early memories of food and how has this shaped your ethos and cooking style?
It has to be watching Maman beavering away in the kitchen. She taught me to follow the rhythm of the seasons and make the most of the delicious produce available to me and also to enrich someone else’s life by passing on your own knowledge to the young.
Adventurous eating! We are noticing so many more people opt for the likes of Steak Tartare at Brasserie Blanc – people are really pushing the boundaries when it comes to trying different and new dishes, particularly the younger audience. The new summer menu also includes dishes such as grilled cod with lemon and squid ink risotto, to give customers something new and unique to try.
How would you best sum up French cuisine?
It’s all about richness, combination of ingredients and flavours, but most of all I think it is the whole experience of sitting down at the table with family and a big hearty bowl of beef bourguignon. It’s very comforting. I think the British have very much embraced French food to the point that it is part of everyday life for many people. How often do you enjoy croissants or pain au chocolat at breakfast or a freshly baked baguette at lunch? The British have embraced so many different styles of cuisine from across the world and, in a lot of ways, taken it to a new level. It makes the future of food in this country very exciting to me and it is wonderful to be part of that.
When you first came to England over 40 years ago, how was the standard of cooking and what changes have you noticed in the way we eat or celebrate food?
When I came to Great Britain in 1972 England was a very different place, food was of total irrelevance. Now there’s a true awakening of what represents good food. The consumer is much more knowledgeable and aware. They ask more questions: what’s in the food, where does it come from? Great Britain has moved on in the culinary world so much and it’s exciting. British chefs are now mature and have a true connection with gastronomy. They connect with their region, their heritage, their history – which is exactly our aim for Brasserie Blanc.
The summer is an amazing season for ingredients. Are there any recent discoveries that you are now incorporating within your dishes?
The menu changes at Brasserie Blanc are always led by seasonality and the freshest ingredients around. Just take our new Vietnamese summer rolls that have subtle fresh flavours of mint, avocado, cucumber and a citrus ginger and soy dipping sauce for the summer months. They are also vegan which is a lifestyle choice that I see more and more of our guests adopting.
Are there any funny/interesting stories you can tell us about your travels?
For the new summer menu, I have taken inspiration from my world travels to create flavoursome dishes from around the world. For the Lamb Tagine, I took inspiration from my time in Morocco. However, I did find myself in some trouble when I was bartering over some king prawns in a market – what I thought was some friendly banter suddenly escalated and the market trader threatened violence if I continued to try and get a better price. I thought I was doing well with my bartering, but it turns out I had taken things a step too far!
You have travelled extensively experiencing different cuisines from around the world. Do you prefer travelling or do you still prefer being in the kitchen?
My experiences travelling have really helped to craft the new summer menu at Brasserie Blanc. From the lamb tagine in Morocco to the summer rolls in South-East Asia, I have been lucky enough to discover amazing tastes from around the world, which I have brought back, re-created and introduced on the new menu.
The grilled cod with lemon and squid ink risotto was inspired by my recent trip to Venice where I visited the Rialto Fish Market most mornings to soak up the atmosphere and see what’s come in fresh off the boats. The inspiration for the preserved lemon cod is a combination of these visits to Venice and also my love of North African food where preserved lemon is a widely used ingredient.
Of course, it is always great to come back to the kitchen to see these dishes enjoyed by our customers.