Rooted In Excellence
The utmost respect for nature and true generosity serve as the pillars on which chef Raymond Blanc has cemented his legacy, discovers Kissa Castañeda
Raymond Blanc is a ball of positive energy. When we meet at his office at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons, the 69-year-old chef can’t stop flipping through books, offering me freshly baked pastries and fruits, and regaling me with stories as if it’s the first time he’s telling them. I quickly conclude that his immense staying power can be attributed to this—the man refuses to rest on his laurels and, frankly, just never stops.
That a self-taught chef has been able to reach the pinnacle of the culinary world and retain his standing is achievement enough, but for Blanc—who has been knighted in both France and the United Kingdom— it’s the people he touches that matter the most. That includes the chefs he’s mentored throughout the years, including the likes of Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal, as well as the many guests who have passed through the iron doors of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons, whose gates, he shares, “are perennially open”.
Many a gourmand makes the pilgrimage to stay, dine and study at the famed hotel-restaurant in Oxfordshire. At the on-site cookery school, students learn first-hand the kitchen secrets he has penned in his popular cookbooks; meanwhile, the newly launched gardening school also reveals a few tricks of the trade. Here, the chef shares what drives him and the evolution of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons, which celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2019.
What has been the greatest inspiration throughout your career?
My biggest inspiration has always been my mother, Maman Blanc. From when I was a young boy, she made me understand the significance of seasonality, of freshness and of the importance of the soil. She also taught me not to waste anything. I carry those values into everything that I do.
How does your garden shape the way you cook and live?
At Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons, the garden dictates what is on the plate. My potager [kitchen-garden] and the seasons are a constant source of inspiration. In fact, even my website changes with the seasons. Having the garden has also emphasised my commitment to sustainability—and I’m glad this is being taken more seriously everywhere. I was one of the first chefs to remove the use of plastic in the kitchen and the hotel was also one of the first to stop the use of parabens in our products; we produce our own clean shampoo and soap for our guests to use. In the next phase, I foresee that veganism will continue to rise and the demand for animal protein will decrease.
Apart from your affinity with nature, what else do you advocate for?
I feel strongly about reshaping the hospitality industry and creating a new model of work. Working in hospitality is hard and there aren’t enough people entering the industry because of just how tough it is. I always strive to introduce work-life balance in my organisations and I’m also collaborating with other organisations to help train people and support the youth.
Your hotel-restaurant is often described as the epitome of luxury. What does luxury mean to you?
There’s a maelstrom of change affecting every facet of life today and I feel this has changed the way luxury is defined. Luxury is not solely about opulence; it is about responsibility, thoughtfulness and well-being. The experience of luxury should also feel effortless—and the only way to deliver this is through having the right people and attitude.