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GOURMET TRAVEL: Raymond Blanc

Raymond Blanc's French inspired dishes have won him numerous awards including an OBE and two Michelin stars, which he has held for an impressive 29 years. The author of many cookbooks, he has also appeared on TV screens on series such as 'The Very Hungry Frenchman', 'How to Cook Well' and 'The Restaurant'.

Born in France, he moved to England where he started his career as a waiter in Oxfordshire. One day, Raymond took over the kitchen when the chef was unwell and the rest, as they say, is history.

Raymond is Chef Patron of Orient Express property, hotel-restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, which he opened in Oxford in 1977. The renowned restaurant is celebrated for its gastronomic menu based on ingredients fresh from his celebrated gardens.

He also runs the famous 'The Raymond Blanc Cooking School' for budding chefs. Many of the next generation of chefs have trained under him at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons including Michelin starred John Burton Race, Marco Pierre White and Michael Caines.

Here he reveals to The Luxury Travel Bible what makes a 'great meal', what means 'luxury' to him and  how Maman Blanc has influenced his impressive culinary career .

What is your definition of a 'good' meal?
A good meal is one made with love - shared with family and friends.  In the past, we didn't really spend much time thinking about what we ate.  I remember when I came to the UK in the seventies, I was really horrified at how little time and effort we spent on meal times.  Everything was plastic - plastic bread, plastic cheese - terrible!  But things have come a long way and we are much more aware in Britain about what we are eating.  It's like we have begun to wake from a long sleep - we now know that we have to be aware of food miles for example - what we should be eating and when and taking full advantage of local produce. This of course has made our meal times better.  We need to keep learning and keep actively engaged in order to continue to improve.
Which country (in your opinion) has the best cuisine?
That is an impossible question - it's very unfair!  I have travelled widely - and seen many countries and many types of cuisine that are wonderful.  I love the ingredients and dishes from my own home region Franche Comté, but I have also been moved and delighted by food from the Far East, from India.  I was so inspired by the herbs and spices used in eastern cooking that I created my own Malaysian garden at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons - the smell of lemongrass always brings back such fond memories of the wonderful cuisine in Singapore and Malaysia - that I wanted to be able to revisit that cuisine any time I liked and to add my own twist with new ingredients.
Raymond Blanc in the Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons kitchen
What was your most memorable meal ever?
There are so many memorable meals.  One of the most memorable was what Maman Blanc used to serve every Saturday to the family for lunch.  She gave us steak accompanied by home made French fries and vegetables from the garden.  It was just a simple steak but thanks to the way it was cooked - it remains amongst the best I've ever eaten.  Partly the way it was cooked and partly, the quality and how long it had been hung for.  It was simple but has left an indelible memory for me.
Food creates memories. Is there a dish that instantly evokes a favourite travel experience or destination?
Some of my best food memories were in Thailand and Malaysia; I have such wonderful memories of the hawkers markets.  In Malaysia, I sampled the most amazing Tom Yum soup delicately laced with the lightest coconut milk.  I will never forget stumbling across one of those truly special stalls in one of the most bustling hawker's markets.  The taste was out of this world.  Clean, simple, so uncomplicated that it was totally sublime.  That has got to be up there with one of the best dishes I've ever tasted.  It doesn't have to be complicated; it doesn't have to be involved.
You once said, 'If we eat together..., we can create a kinder society."  Expand a little on that please.
It is so simple.  Eating together and sharing the joy of cooking and eating makes for a better understanding of one another.  Christmas in the Blanc household whilst I was growing up was a huge affair.  The whole family would gather together and talk over each other - that's one thing that I have learnt from being in Britain for so long - The British listen to each other.   The French all talk at the same time.  Nevertheless, it was wonderful, spending time all together as a family and with friends.  One learnt to understand each other, to appreciate each other and even if we argued (us kids often argued!) you knew it would never be irreparable.  Disputes were as quickly mended as they were made. 
It is so important for all of us to make time to eat together.  To share our day, to understand  each other particularly when we are all so busy, it's vital to take time out to spend time together and what better way than around a table?
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Are there any other regions of France apart from Franche-Comté that have influenced you?
I have learnt a lot from many different regions and my recent travels to France for the BBC series The Very Hungry Frenchman chronicles my inspiration and discovery.  I wouldn't be able to choose one region amongst the others - they are all close to my heart!
In your travels has any other country influenced your cuisine?
The Far East is an area of the world that I'll always hold dear to my heart.  For the herbs and fragrant spices.
What does 'luxury ' (in relation to travel) mean to you?
Luxury - the world has been used and misused.  Quite simply to me - luxury is all about encompassing something truly special.  From a wonderful piece of fabric to a glorious dish; from the perfect travel experience to an exquisite object.  It's all about celebrating tradition and encouraging innovation.    Quite simply luxury is an organic concept.  It grows and develops and changes all the time.  It is indefinable through its endless possibilities.
You helped design the rooms at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. What is your ideal hotel room?
For me it's all about effortless comfort.  Somewhere which has been thought about in detail but doesn't assault the senses.  Comfort and feeling good is so important in a hotel room as in life.  The surroundings should never dominate one's emotions.  They should soothe and relax the soul.  It should be almost intuitive.
When travelling, is there a 'comfort food' dish which reminds you of home?
Yes, and it comes from the fact that I have a very sweet tooth.  I have many, many favourite dishes from my childhood.  One of my favourite comfort dishes is Maman Blanc's Floating Islands which I remember as a special treat when I was young.  Very simple to make - the finest powdered nougatine, a confit of apricots, poached meringue, the best vanilla cream and threads of caramel.  Delicieux!  I have recreated it many times at Le Manoir and my guests love it!
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Dining at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Which city in the world would you always want to visit again and why?
Not just a city but I would like to take some time out of my diary and travel through India with my sons - learning about the culture, the food and meeting the people.
Which item(s) of food sum up luxury for you?
For me food it is all about provenance.  Where it came from, where it was grown, knowing how it was grown, how it was reared and collected.  How it was caught or slaughtered.  It is the entire process of provenance that is so important.  Every place in the world will have world beating ingredients because they are suited to growing in that place.   Often having developed and adapted over many generations to suit that particular soil and weather conditions of the area. That is true luxury for me. 
Apart from your own, what are some of your favourite restaurants?
There are so many - at the moment I am loving the work of Bruno Loubet - who worked with me at the very beginning.    I love his new venture - The Grain Store.  Sustainability, high quality and wonderful credentials.  Bravo!

Where to next?
So many places, so many things to do.  But that would be telling.  You will have to watch this space!  There is so much more to come.

 
Sarah Bryans, Posted 3/12/13
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