Last week, the final episode of Raymond Blanc: The Very Hungry Frenchman aired on BBC Two. If you’re anything like us, you’ll already be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. So, we thought we’d treat you to one last fix of the Frenchman…
It’s 9.30am on the morning after the night before when I speak to Raymond Blanc. His PA has forewarned me that the Michelin-starred chef had been hosting a huge party until the early hours. So, as I wait for him to come and talk to me, I’m not sure what sort of reception I’ll get.
Fortunately, even with a sore head, Raymond is as passionate as he appears on TV. Despite getting to bed at around 3am – “You don’t call time on a night like that,” he says – he’s got up early, done his daily yoga and pilates, and eaten a breakfast of organic muesli with water and maple syrup, a barely-set hardboiled egg, yoghurt, toast with jam, and freshly-squeezed apple juice.
“I’m not a Frenchman at breakfast. I don’t have black coffee and a cigarette. Breakfast sets you up for the day. I need my energy to last.”
Raymond’s reason for celebrating is a pretty big one. He’s just taken over 8 Chez Gerard restaurants in central London with the aim of turning them into Brasserie Blancs. When he talks about the new Covent Garden eatery, his enthusiasm goes off the scale.
“The restaurant is amazing. It’s got a roof terrace, looking out over the most beautiful part of London. Covent Garden is so lively – it’s a fantasy to have a restaurant there.”
It’s clear that Raymond’s eateries are more than just bricks and mortar. To him, Brasserie Blanc embodies a philosophy for life.
“We have devalued food in this country. Food should connect everything. It’s connected to health, our environment, sex and consciousness. When we sit down and relax at the table it’s a time to let go. Every day people feel like they have to be someone else. We have to meet deadlines, and our bosses want more and more. At the table we can be silly, we can be ourselves.”
Raymond’s Brasserie Blanc philosophy also affects the sort of people he has on his guest list. Unlike many Michelin star chefs, Raymond actively encourages parents to bring their children into his restaurants. To do this, he offers three separate children’s menus. The Bebe Blanc menu features organic purees for babies, the Petit Blanc is a small set menu for children up to eight, and the Juene Blanc lets older children choose half portions from the same menu as mum and dad.
“I had the biggest fight on my hands when I said I wanted to encourage children into my restaurants 35 years ago,” says Raymond. “At that point, dogs were more welcome in British restaurants. The journalists and critics didn’t understand. They wondered why I would allow children into a temple of gastronomy. But I didn’t want my restaurant to be a temple. I wanted it to be a place of celebration. I had to fight with people like Michael Winner. When he came to review my restaurant, I made sure he was sat next to a child each time. Having children in restaurants is a deeply ingrained part of my culture. It’s about connecting little people with food and socialising.”
By this point in our conversation, Raymond and I have been talking for more than an hour and I wonder where he gets his energy from. Then something I say reminds him of his mother and everything becomes clear.
“My sons call Maman Blanc ‘Mother Teresa on speed’,” Raymond admits. “She’s 4 foot three inches tall and looks like a humble little thing, but she’s a dynamo. She’s 90 and she’s still going strong. At Christmas we had to tie her up to stop her from trying to help.”
And it’s not just his energy that Raymond attributes to his mother. He’s taken most of his values from her, too.
“Maman Blanc is single-handedly responsible for the way I am with people today. I have learnt curiosity, interest, and humility from her. Humility is so important to me. I have a lovely life. I live in a fantastic world. That’s why, when I cook for strangers, I give them my heart.”
The above interview is a snippet of a double-page feature on Raymond, which appears in the summer edition of our inflight magazine, ‘Inflight’. You can read the full article onboard our planes from 1st May.
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Published: March 13, 2012
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