Raymond Blanc on how he celebrates Christmas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 December 2017
So why does Raymond Blanc sing 'God Save The Queen' at Christmas? On a visit to his Knutsford brasserie - Cheshire Life Restaurant of the Year 2017- the chef tells Janet Reeder all about his family's festive celebration.
Raymond Blanc is one of the most respected figures in the world of cuisine. He’s trained more than 38 Michelin-starred chefs, has written many books and works energetically to delight diners with food that they can truly adore, whether it’s a £10 set menu at his Brasserie Blanc in Knutsford, or blowing the budget at his famed Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
But when it comes to Christmas, he heads home to the South of France, where he’ll celebrate with his family and his mother, who was 95 last month.
Raymond is in Knutsford for another celebration, the first birthday of his Regent Street Brasserie Blanc. He welcomed a guest list of locals who had been invited to enjoy the pleasures of bubbly, live music, a cheese tasting and gin mixology, and, of course the presence of the charming man himself.
He was clearly delighted that the restaurant was selected as Cheshire Life’s Restaurant of the Year at our prestigious Food and Drink Awards back in July, tweeting messages of congratulation on the night...but he is clearly not resting on his laurels.
The 67-year-old is constantly on the alert, making notes, advising staff on how to present cocktails and generally working. To say that food is his life’s passion is an understatement, so little wonder that he adores Christmas where the feast is central to the celebrations.
Who will do the cooking in the Blanc household? After all it was maman, Anne-Marie Blanc, along with his father Maurice, who famously taught young Raymond how to respect food. Apparently at the age of 10 he was given a basket and told to go foraging and then his mother cooked a delicious dinner using his discoveries.
‘At Christmas she will not be cooking because I will tie her up,’ Raymond says with a mischievous twinkle in this eye.
‘My sons call her Mother Theresa on speed because, I mean, she’s so excitable and wants to cook all the time and she still thinks she’s 20 years old.
‘She’s a diminutive little woman of five foot three and she’s shrinking every day. She looks like a little old apple. She’s got piercing blue eyes, she loves the whole world and the world loves her back. I’m going to tie her up but I know that within 10 minutes she will be joining me in the kitchen and she will start to boss me around. Because that’s her kitchen, you know. It’s where she cooked for five kids and her husband for more than 60 years!’
Ahh, to be invited to the Blanc household on Christmas Day. His is a lavish feast that will be typically French with one exception - good old British Christmas pudding.
‘It will be oysters, trays of escargots and I mean trays of escargots. Not just six. Each guest will have at least 18. It’s an orgy of escargots! And garlic!’ he laughs.
‘Then crudités. The British have roast beef and we have crudités: celeriac, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber served with different dressings, which is lovely. We always have that. Then we have charcuterie. We don’t do turkey very much. We use either goose or a big fat chicken.
‘The chicken will be seriously free range. It will take me at least one hour to capture this beast then I will kill him. It will be a him because his little balls will have been cut off so he can only think of food before Christmas. Nothing else.
‘And we will slow cook him at 150 degrees for about two and a half hours, basting with the juices and that will be heavenly. Then we have all the winter chestnuts with vegetables and so on and then the cheese and the salad and then we will have two desserts.
‘I will have brought my two Christmas puddings all the way from England on Eurostar, which I will have steamed for three and a half hours. Think of the South of France when there is a blizzard outside and you are in that room. At 7 O’ clock at night, I put the brandy butter on the side, then we turn off the lights and flambé the two Christmas puddings and you see these blue flames dancing on them and he you know it’s Noel.
‘You will see my French friends, who will stand up and sing God Save the Queen...OK they don’t but I do! I have won the battle with all my French friends about Christmas pudding. All my friends say to me that they love it.’
He reveals another reason for loving the season is that we all have more time to devote to each other. ‘In life more and more, we are busy, we are stressed, we never have time to smile at each other or to return a kindness. Whereas as Christmas it’s all warm and fuzzy. The whole of the nation changes. This is somehow the spirit of Christmas. It undermines all the atrocities we see. There is this happiness which manages to overcome everything.
‘There’s singing, there’s music, you wrap presents, everything is happening at Christmas and whether you eat a turkey or a dozen snails and hundred oysters it doesn’t matter what you serve because that spirit is embracing the whole of Christmas.
‘BUT. I will tell you out of my worldly knowledge that the British are the best at celebrating Christmas. You are the only nation I know that starts celebrating three weeks before, or even a month before. Partying like animals!. And that is fun. So come to Brasserie Blanc and book your party with us.’
He feels the Knutsford restaurant has now got the recipe right with a great team, trained within the company and the right outlook for success.
‘You can see the impact that one has had on the nation’s chefs,’ he says.
‘And young chefs now are connecting with the real values of gastronomy, connecting with their suppliers, their fishmongers, their farmers, their butcher, seasonality and creativity and it’s a very exciting moment.’