Daniel Ortelli - October 2004
Silver Spoon Food Arts presents the October 2004 Silver Spoon Award to Raymond Blanc, the internationally respected, indestructibly youthful French chef/patron of Oxford's celebrated Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, record setter for Michelin two-star longevity in the English country manor house hotel category.
That "RB," as all his staff familiarly call him, is one of the most volubly influential, passionate chefs of our time, is reflected in all he sets out to achieve, from the quality and variety of the organic vegetables he grows in his increasingly vast gardens to the excellence and disciplined creativity of the meals he has been serving for 30 years.
Transplanted to England at the age of 23, where he began his career as a waiter, RB staunchly remains a man of the France-Comté, his native province in eastern France, where quality of life is still measured in the quality of the produce brought to table, especially cheese and wine—RB's favorite lunch break—and in the sustained harmony with rules established over generations by seasoned farmers, vintners, and artisans. Blanc is a persuasive visionary, particularly as a sustainability advocate. Although he loves England, he reamins fundamentally French with a very big mouth, never stifling his opinions to conform to the establishment mindset. He has six books under his belt and for years has appeared regularly on TV to rapt audiences.
A self-taught cuisinier, RB soon shed his waiter's jacket to take over the kitchen at the Rose Revival Restaurant, near Whitney, when the chef became ill. Two years later, the restaurant gained entry into the Guide Michelin. At 28, he opened his first restaurant, in Oxford. One Michelin star was followed by a second in 1983.
In 1984, RB fulfilled a personal vision, creating a hotel and restaurant that represented toatl harmony of spirit and form, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, in high Romantic fashion, only to transform it in 1998, according to design titan Sir Terence Conran, into a "hymn of contemporary style." Sensitivity to changing tastes has served him well as an entrepreneur. His first Maison Blanc Pâtisserie/Boulangerie debuted in 1978. Le Manoir's culinary school opened in 1991, and La Petite Blanc Brasserie, serving good quality, freshly prepared, accessibly priced food, appeared in 1996 in Oxford, the first of five, all in the English provinces. That none are in London says a lot about RB's passion for rural land and people, rather than urban glitz and glory.
Living in the countryside, however, does not prevent him from spreading his word around the globe, essentially on a few very simple but crucial themes, such as "food is a medicine." Last April, the amazing "Dr. Blanc" invited dozens of colleagues from near and far to Le Manoir to discuss the future of world cuisine, at the "American Food Revolution" festival (See Pilot Light), among them the incomparable Paul Bocuse, dominant chef of the last century, who soon was seen walking around sporting a red bow tie offered to him by Ohio's Farmer Lee Jones. A great symbol, and a great proof of RB's unique talent for bridging transatlantic gaps...over a memorable meal whenever.