Raymond Blanc: Cooking at Royal Ascot
Raymond Blanc: Cooking at Royal Ascot
The legendary chef on why he can’t wait for the return of the famous racing event, seasonal eating and his dream dinner party…
What do you love cooking in summer?
Mother Nature’s larder is at its most abundant, colourful and sumptuous. Make the most of English asparagus. Then there are summer tomatoes, plump and full of flavour, and wild salmon, and, of course, strawberries. At home, I like simplicity – summer vegetables, such as courgettes, aubergine, red peppers, brushed with olive oil and then chargrilled on a griddle pan or the barbecue. Or for a light lunch on a hot day, what about a swiftly rustled up salade Niçoise – a platter of big, fat tomatoes, tuna, lettuce, red pepper, quartered hard-boiled eggs, anchovies and black olives. And – I almost forgot – a glass of chilled rosé from Provence.
What got you through the pandemic? Is there anything you learned or do differently now as a result?
We all suffered, but what were the positives? I retreated to my kitchen at home, and wrote Simply Raymond. For this book, I cooked and enjoyed lots of easy, wholesome, delicious dishes, and many of them reminded me of happy times with Maman Blanc, who died in the summer of 2020. I have written lots of cookbooks, but Simply Raymond was an extraordinary journey of eating well through the crisis.
Who would be your ‘dream dinner party’ guests and what would be on the menu?
Over the years I have been asked this question a thousand times. In the past I have assembled a long list of guests but, on reflection, that would mean I’d be in the kitchen rather than with my guests at the table! So today I am dreaming of a dinner party with just one guest – Sir David Attenborough. He is my hero, a gentleman and astute observer, and does not place himself above others.
How has your cooking evolved over the years?
I have been inspired by my travels and experiences, and through knowledge, but I remain true to the purity of ingredients. So while dishes evolve, my philosophy has remained the same – respect for food, farming and the environment.
What are you looking forward to cooking at Royal Ascot?
Our menu will be seasonal, of course – the most vibrant summer vegetables and glorious fruits and berries. This year we will be starting with beetroot cured salmon and sea bream ceviche, followed by Royal Estate saddle of lamb, courgette flower and minted peas. The British love their strawberries, so for dessert … strawberry and vanilla panna cotta.
What stands out for you about the event?
Royal Ascot is far more than a grand sporting event. It is a great spectacle. Ladies are adorned in stunning outfits and elegant hats. Men are transformed into perfect gentlemen by morning suits and top hats. Going back many years, I went to Moss Bros to hire a morning suit for my first visit to Royal Ascot. Being a good French Republican, I did not own such a garment. I certainly needed one as I was a guest of The Queen Mother and would be in the Royal Enclosure. Chef whites weren’t within the dress code, though nowadays I wear whites as I am cooking. It will be great to be back to normal and to welcome our guests once again before Covid put a stop everything. What a joy for everyone to come to Royal Ascot, to savour the splendour of the racing and the hospitality! It’s an extraordinary event, a world-class week.
Many years ago I was watching the crowds when I caught sight of a fascinating hat. It was like a small bowler hat, with a curved brim so broad that I could barely see the face of the woman. At that very moment I pictured it, turned upside down and as a plate. I worked with my friend Richard Hamilton, the man behind the British Pop Art movement, to create detailed drawings of such a dish. Sadly, back then we couldn’t find a company that had the machinery to produce it on a large scale. Sometimes I sigh these days when this shape of plate is placed in front of me in restaurants…
What’s next for you?
Lunch is next. I am making steak Maman Blanc, a dish that features in Simply Raymond. The steak is pan-fried in foaming butter and transferred to a warm plate. Put the pan back on a medium–high heat and pour a little water into the hot pan – sizzle, bubble, boil. The butter in the pan and water will create an emulsion. My mother always cooked steak this way, using water to capture flavours. Scrape the base of the pan with a spatula to release the caramelised residue. Pour this juice onto the steak and enjoy with salad or – my favourite – sauté potatoes. Bon appétit!
Royal Ascot, 14 to 18 June.