Joyful meals don’t need fussy recipes – interview with Raymond Blanc
Get the Inverness Courier sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
Raymond Blanc is in excellent spirits. Outdoor dining is back on the menu, meaning the chef’s Brasserie Blanc restaurants have reopened – and despite the “freezing” conditions, the Blanc empire has “created some beautiful open marquees” complete, of course, with heaters, writes Ella Walker.
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, his two-Michelin starred Oxfordshire restaurant, is also fully booked for the next six months.
It is cause for “a bit of joy in our team and of course a lot of laughter and celebration among our guests”, says Blanc on the phone. But he is cautious too. “There’s some reserve because, as you know, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.
“We all pray on the wing, so to speak,” he continues. “We pray we’re going to learn to live with Covid and it’s not going to destroy people’s lives nor businesses any more.”
If you’re in the restaurant game, the pandemic has been particularly brutal, and for Blanc (71), it took a directly personal toll too. Following a cough and a positive Covid test result, he found himself admitted to the Covid high dependency unit at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and was there for a month.
“The first two weeks I was completely out, it was extraordinary,” he recalls. “You didn’t know which way it would go.”
Having spent much of the pandemic up until that point “cooking my heart out”, you’d think the shift to hospital food and being unable to fix his own dinners would’ve added to an already scary and difficult situation, but Blanc is pragmatic.
“It was really, really very severe Covid and that means you didn’t think of it,” he says now. “Hospital food reminded me maybe that I missed my own cooking, but Natalia [Traxel, his long-time partner] would always bring me some lovely food from home” – but this was only after three weeks, when Blanc was more “with it” and able to appreciate eating properly again.
The flavour of his new book, Simply Raymond, is very much tinged by his and the collective experiences of pandemic life – be it how many of us have become increasingly connected with what we’re eating, where it’s come from and who grew it, or just the fact we’ve done so much more cooking than before.
“This little book is really all about the joyful experience of cooking – it’s my cooking, from my home to yours,” explains Blanc.
It is full of “unfussy recipes. They are driven by simplicity, by seasonality, by real values. And you don’t need expensive gadgets, no sous vide machines or anything like that.
Simply Raymond: Recipes From Home by Raymond Blanc is published by Headline Home, priced £25. Photography by Chris Terry.