The top chef talks to Time & Leisure about his inspiration, turning 70, and heading to Royal Ascot and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
It seems that Raymond Blanc has been around forever – the phenomenally successful chef (who has both an OBE and France’s equivalent of a knighthood) came to the UK in the 1970s, launched Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire (which has held two Michelin stars for over 30 years), taught more than 30 protégés, including Marco Pierre White, and launched Brasserie Blanc – one of which is in Fulham Reach – and the White Brasserie chain. Oh, and he’s been a firm fixture on our TV screens inspiring countless home cooks.
It is somewhat surprising to learn that he was completely self-taught, and while he might have started his career at a Michelin- starred restaurant called Le Palais de la Bière, it was as a cleaner. He worked his way up to waiter but the chef didn’t take kindly to his suggestions. One broken jaw and a bruised ego later, Raymond packed his bags and headed to Blighty, where he built up his extraordinary career.
This summer, he will be heading to the quintessentially British event, Royal Ascot as chef in residence, with other great chefs including Ollie Dabbous and Eric Lanlard, and returns to RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May with his secret garden restaurant, Jardin Blanc.
Tell us what to expect at Jardin Blanc at RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Nestled in a peaceful corner of the show you will find my secret garden. Jardin Blanc is an enchanting place; hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the main show, it’s perfect for dining, unwinding and – of course – celebrating.
My menus put a spotlight on beautiful spring produce and whether you are joining us for lunch, dinner, Champagne and canapés or afternoon tea, we aim to capture Jardin Blanc’s signature joie de vivre in every dish. This year, we are also proud to introduce wonderful vegan options to our menus, which take inspiration from the beautiful plants and flowers in the gardens.
What was the first dish you ever cooked?
I offered to make Crêpes Suzette for the family when I was a child. The recipe was my grandmothers; the thinnest pancakes with the best caramel sauce. It was going so well until catastrophe struck! The glass dish I was using to create the caramel exploded into a thousand pieces all over the kitchen. Let’s just say it was a memorable day.
And the best/worst dish you ever cooked?
This is such a tough question! Many of my dishes today have evolved from my classics from over 40 years ago. Some of my favourites are a Comté souffle with the creamiest Comté cheese sauce, or even Paquet surprise du Manoir, a lemon iced parfait in a crisp almond pastry parcel, finished with black cherries and kirsch. I dare not tell you about the disasters!
If you hadn’t become a top chef, what would you be?
I truly love spending time in the gardens, so much so we have 12 gardens at Le Manoir! So perhaps I would have become a landscape gardener.
What does it mean for you to be a chef in residence at Royal Ascot?
Royal Ascot is truly a world class event and I am honoured to have been invited back for the fourth year running. The Panoramic Restaurant where my team and I will be hosting brings even more magic, beautiful food and French art de vivre to this very British celebration. With any celebration, food plays a huge role in the overall experience and I hope to give our guests a truly phenomenal day out at the races.
What’s on the menu?
I will be creating a delicious four-course lunch menu, using the very best seasonal and local ingredients including lamb from the Royal Estate, beautiful British strawberries and artisan British and French cheeses.
I learnt so much from my mother. She encouraged her children to be in the kitchen and take part in the process of putting seasonal dishes on the table
Who/what inspired you to become a chef?
I learnt so much from my mother. She encouraged her children to be in the kitchen and to take part in the process of putting simple, seasonal dishes on the table. That has inspired me all my life.
What’s next on your radar?
I am celebrating my 70th birthday this year, so perhaps I should be slowing down, but I truly love my craft and I am lucky enough to now have a little home in the south of France, so this year I hope to spend more time relaxing by the sea…
Chelsea Flower Show, 21-25 May
Royal Ascot, 18-22 June