Raymond Blanc may be fast-approaching his 70th birthday, but the Michelin-starred chef’s food is still going places – literally. Recently, the Frenchman took over gastronomic responsibilities on the Eurostar train service from Britain to France and, this year, he is once again providing the menu for Royal Ascot.
Gentleman’s Journal caught up with the restaurateur – and previous teacher of Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White – to discuss the menu, and the importance of getting the courses of course-side food just right.
This is your second year at Ascot. How are your dishes different to last year?
We are delighted to be back at Ascot for our second year, and we hope to use all of the experience we gained last year to our benefit! We’re creating a truly memorable menu for our guests; we’re even using lamb from the Royal Estate.
We’re also taking into account the time of the year; the season. As it happens, June is one of the most generous months to provide the very best with fruits at their most ripe, there is a bounty of summer vegetables.
Is provenance of ingredients important in producing great food?
Absolutely. I ensure that all my produce is from Great Britain and that it showcases the best for the time of the year, whether it is Devonshire crab, local asparagus from Rectory Farm – just five miles from Belmond Le Manor – or strawberries from the local farms around Ascot.
What are the challenges of creating food at a racecourse over a restaurant?
Your own restaurant provides a familiar space, equipment, suppliers, a kitchen garden on your doorstep with the best and freshest vegetables. You also have a team that you know, so going into a different kitchen is always more demanding and complicated.
As Ascot is a one-off event, it is so much more difficult to have the perfect set up you need to be more aware of the possible problems, and be meticulous with your planning and preparation.
So there are many challenges! First, it is not your own kitchen and the space is often much smaller. There is a huge logistical element. We also have less time to train the kitchen and front of house teams but, regardless of these challenges, I also have a reputation to uphold. We always manage to provide the very best experience – a real feast to fit the occasion.
Ascot is indeed an occasion. Does this bring added pressure to the kitchen, too?
Of course, planning is instrumental to being able to manage the service under stress. We leave nothing to chance and have a very detailed running order for the day. Both of my Development Chefs have experience not only in my kitchen back at Belmond Le Manoir but also on other prestigious external events so I have every faith in them.
Our duty is to create food that reflects the very best of the season and is exciting, creative, and light. I have been a chef now for many years and have hosted many large occasions. I have a great team around me and we know that together we will deliver a wonderful meal.
What does Ascot mean to you?
As a French republican, I am in awe of the beauty, the pageantry, outfits and the extraordinary hats! I must confess that as soon as I have a bit of time I simply look around in amazement at this dazzling spectacle. Royal Ascot is truly a world class event and my work is to add a little bit more magic, great food and French art de vivre. With any celebration, food plays a huge role in the ‘joie de vivre’ of the day and Royal Ascot certainly gives you the best stage to celebrate.
But, with so many guests to look after I don’t get much free time! However, when I get a little break, I love to head down to the racecourse and watch those amazing horses.
Finally, the races may be all about speed, but even as you get older, you’re showing no signs of slowing down. Are there any plans to step back on the horizon?
I have good genes! You should see Maman Blanc at 96 years of age! Even today, she still enjoys being out in her kitchen garden. My sons call her ‘Mother Theresa on speed’ so I guess I am lucky! Of course, I am still so passionate about what I do, and there are still many things I’d like to achieve.
At Belmond Le Manoir, for example, we have a new Gardening School opening later in the year, and we are always planning new courses for the Raymond Blanc Cookery School. Plus there is all the consultancy work I do for partners such as Eurostar, and of course the Brasserie Blanc restaurants which I still oversee. So not yet…