Raymond Blanc in Oxford Playhouse

Raymond Blanc, founder of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, today gave a public lecture in the Oxford Playhouse. Blanc is one of my favourite chefs- not least because he produces cookbooks which are great to cook from, but because I share a lot of his thoughts about gastronomy and attitude to food.

It’s easy nowadays to feel good about buying organic, local, seasonal produce – and this is certainly very important – but to me they are very much only a means to creating a great meal. A salad is a lot more than the leaves you put in it, and you can still ruin a free-range corn-fed chicken by cooking it or preparing it poorly. When a chef pushes this kind of food, it is often hard to separate their efforts in putting forward sustainable food, and the cooking of it, as with Jamie Oliver and his efforts for school dinners. I really feel Raymond Blanc gets this balance right- food made in the best environment makes for the best eating- and that best environment is often the organic, local and seasonal one. The focus of food and gastronomy is, to me, about sharing great food with others, and having the right ingredients is going to further that in part.

As a speaker, he was fantastically enigmatic; I don’t think I have ever seen a speaker move around on the stage as much, or spend as much time gesticulating. Although he didn’t speak on many things which weren’t in his autobiography, it was easy to see his energy and convivial personality. The desire and passion he had to share food, his love of food, and how it brought his family and community together really came through in the talk, and it would be hard to go away from it without wanting to do the same. His knowledge of the sourcing of his food was impressive, just showing his commitment to the whole process, and his value of the local farmers and community. It was great to see him giving back to Oxford in this way, and his donation of all the proceeds to the theatre itself was a nice touch. Thanks to Raymond for putting on a great event.

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