Five minutes with Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc OBE is the chef patron of the two Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and founder of Brasserie Blanc. A passionate campaigner for sustainability and food ethics, he has been President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association since 2012.
Here, he tells us about his exploding desserts, finding the essence of tomatoes and eating worms.
Raymond’s first memory of food
I was lucky to live in a foodie, French, working-class family without much money so lots of our food came from our own garden. We’d spend a lot of time out there and one of my earliest memories of food involves me exploring in the garden and my mum seriously telling me off. I was about three years old and I was kneeling in the vegetable patch with a plate, knife and fork… Cutting up a large worm and getting ready to eat it.
Another, more wonderful, memory I have is of entering the kitchen and being surrounded by the fragrance of tomatoes. My mother used to have her tomato plants on the windowsill with all kinds of varieties of tomatoes ripening there. When they were ready she would serve them with some shallots, salt, pepper and a simple French dressing. The salt would cure the tomatoes and extract all the sweet juices from them and, for me, that was the best part – mopping up those juices with some bread. It’s where my inspiration for my ‘essence of tomato’ dish that I serve in my restaurant comes from.
The first recipe Raymond learned to cook
The first recipe I made was a total disaster. I had seen the recipe for crepe suzette in Escoffier’s recipe book – they were so exotic, beautiful and unlike anything my parents had cooked for us before so I really wanted to try them. I was only about thirteen years old so I had to ask my mum if she could go and buy some Grand Marnier. She was dubious but did get some and watched on as I created my masterpiece. I made the wafer-thin pancakes which were perfect. Then I simmered the juices and deglazed the pan to make the syrup – it was so lovely and tasted exquisite. Then, to finish, I put the pancakes in a pyrex dish, added the syrup and got ready to flambé but the pyrex dish exploded! I had triumphed with the recipe for a few minutes and then disaster. Caramel exploded all over the kitchen. I spent hours cleaning up the mess.
(You can find our foolproof caramel crepes suzette recipe here)
The one recipe that Raymond can’t live without
There are so many to choose from but I love French food and the recipes my mother used to make were the best. Her apple tart was simple but the way she made it was so clever and intelligent. She’d make a savoury shortcrust pastry then flatten it and, without resting, she would roll it immediately and put it into a tart ring. Then she would cut the edges, add chopped apples or cherries straight into the unbaked pastry and cook it on a very hot baking stone to ensure the pastry was always crisp even without blind-baking it first. Sometimes, as a special treat, she would cook it two thirds of the way through and then add cream, an egg and sugar.
A recipe that denotes where Raymond is at the moment
Sustainability is very important for me, it’s what my family taught me, and it’s a knowledge that I like to pass on to the next generation of cooks and chefs. It’s wonderful to see that younger people are talking about sustainability, seasonal produce and where food comes from – it wasn’t the case just a few years ago.
Recipes that are important to me at the moment are those using produce from my vegetable patch. The vegetables from it have better colour, taste and flavour. They are fresh and local so there’s no air miles or pollution from transporting them and usually as soon as they come into season there’s a glut so I can do plenty with them.
At the moment my broad beans are perfect, full and have a wonderful flavour. A simple recipe I like to make for dinner is broad beans steamed with garlic and served with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and perhaps some ricotta or feta and a squeeze of lemon juice. After a long day at work with rich food this is perfect and so simple.
Raymond’s favourite recipe on the delicious. website
Forget the calories! I don’t associate guilt with food and I just love the look of the summer fruit pavlova. I think if you leave this on the side, for people to help themselves, it will be gone in no time.