Raymond Blanc OBE
Raymond Blanc OBE is a gastronomic icon, acknowledged as one of the finest chefs in the world. Yet his philosophy is endearingly simple: My team and I aim to excel in what we do, but never to take ourselves too seriously. He is chef-patron of Belmond Le Manoir aux QuatSaisons, the two-starred Michelin hotel-restaurant in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton. His significant influence on British cuisine has brought scores of awards, as well as decades of critical praise and glowing admiration from fellow professionals and food lovers. In July 2012 Raymond was appointed President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. In the same year he became Culinary Director of Eurostar, creating menus for Premier Business passengers. In June 2013 he received the Legion dHonneur, the highest French decoration. He has trained some 30 chefs who have gone on to win Michelin stars, though he is a self-taught chef. His burning passion for cooking - and eating - was inspired during his childhood in Besancon, France. In 1972 he came to Britain to work as a waiter at the Rose Revived in Oxfordshire. When the cook became ill, Raymond took over. From that moment he was a chef. At the age of 28, Raymond opened his first restaurant, Les QuatSaisons in Summertown, Oxford. Le Manoir aux QuatSaisons opened in 1984; it was, he says, the fulfilment of a personal vision. Raymond is the only chef in Britain to have retained two Michelin stars for the past 30 years and sustainability has been at the heart of his work. Raymond is a best-selling author, and his BBC television series have included the Very Hungry Frenchman, Kitchen Secrets and his most recent series Kew on a Plate.
My connection with seafood
Throughout my career I have been on a self-set mission to encourage others to reconnect with their wonderful gastronomic heritage. A very early memory of mine is of catching fish for dinner, in the stream near my childhood home, perhaps this was the start of my devotion to fish. In contrast to that idyllic experience, on arriving in Britain I wanted to taste first hand some British gastronomy and so I ordered fish fingers which arrived in about 40 seconds and was one of the worst things I have ever eaten! Seafood is wonderfully varied and so important to me as a chef but over-exploitation and wasteful practices make me angry and I have been campaigning against overfishing for years. My mission is to fight against intensive harvesting of the seas, the damage, the extraordinary mindless voracious appetite of fishing everything, so you have nets dragging, killing every single life from the sea floor". I strongly believe that the restaurant industry must be at the forefront of change to ensure that what we buy comes from sustainable sources. Our industry is the largest consumer of fish in this country. 50% of the fish eaten in the UK is eaten in our restaurants. That, if nothing else, should remind us of our responsibility.
Why sustainability is important to me
Each aspect of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons is driven by ethical, environmental, seasonal and regional values, when ever possible. I believe good nutrition and good food can only start from wholesome ingredients. What may not have been achievable yesterday is often achievable today. We work in partnership with farmers, fishmongers and food producers exchanging knowledge. The possibilities are enormous; at last we can find some good-quality produce on our doorstep. All the produce that we use at Belmond Le Manoir is either organic, free-range or "artisanally" produced. Belmond Le Manoir was among the first restaurants to insist on sustainably sourced fish. We aim for all our suppliers to be accountable and responsible. We do not utilise fish during their spawning season, we ensure we know the minimum size for all species we use and use fish caught by sustainable, ethical methods for each species (i.e. line caught, hand dived, etc). When sustainable fisheries are unavailable, we will use fish from the best quality, organically farmed fisheries. I know our hospitality industry can make a difference, contribute to the sustainability debate, and influence both the consumers and the government: I am an Ambassador for Sustainable Fish Cities which persuaded the organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to serve only sustainable fish. They honoured their promise. Every piece of wild caught fish served at the glorious event was either Marine Conservation Society (MCS) green rated or certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This was the largest peace-time catering operation in the world. This was also the first games ever to display eco-labels, with Fairtrade and MSC logos, to over 5 million competitors and visitors who enjoyed the food.