Get to know self-taught chef extraordinaire Raymond Blanc OBE, who explains how to make the perfect Tarte Tatin, reveals his latest plans for an orchard at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons and recounts the time he was punched in the face by a head chef…
We're loving your new BBC Two series Kitchen Secrets. Did you always want to become a chef?
I got an early education of good food when I was growing up in Besancon in the Franche-Comté region of France – I was taught about the culture, seasonality and pleasure of eating. It sounds like a cliché of typical French life in Burgundy, but my father was a gardener and my mother was a very good cook. My grandmother was a well-known local cook too and she would make incredible dishes. Every Sunday we would gather round the table as a family and celebrate food.
What was your first job?
I wanted to be a chef, but had to take a job as a cleaner in a French hotel instead. The place never looked so clean so I was quickly promoted to glass washer in its beautiful Micheline-starred restaurant. I cleaned these beautiful tall hand-blown glasses so well and cut down the breakage by half - the waiters loved me! I was then promoted to waiter and had to meet and greet the customers, got to taste the food and be in the kitchen.
So how did you come to live in England?
I told the head chef that his food was too rich and it didn’t have enough salt. I suggested a bit more lemon juice. His reaction? He hit me so hard I broke my jaw. That day I lost my teeth and my job and was exiled to England.
What were your first impressions of England?
I was a young man of 22 when I arrived here and my first experience of the food was terrible. I walked straight into Wimpy – it had red décor so I thought it was a bistro – but it was awful. The tomatoes tasted plastic for a start!
What was the first English meal you ate when you arrived?
I heard fish and chips was the speciality, but I didn’t expect them to be wreaking with vinegar and to be eating square fish. I’d never seen a square fish before! It was then that I realised I’d entered a world that was very different.
So how did you end up opening Les Quat’ Saisons in Oxford?
I got a job as a waiter at the Rose Revived Restaurant, and when the chef was taken ill one day I took over. The moment I held a frying pan I knew it would change my life. I opened my first restaurant three months after, then in 1984 I opened the country house hotel Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.
You won’t find any square fish at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons!
What inspires you?
People who I work with and places I visit. I don’t restrict food to just the food itself – I connect it to every farmer, chef, waiter, season and restaurant design. In the last 30 years, the mistake in England is that we separate food with culture. We embrace intensive farming and have forgotten that food connects with society and family. I’m excited by the idea of sharing and learning and we have a moral duty to pass on information about the food we eat.
What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
I’m creating an English apple orchard, with French apples growing around it in the grounds of Le Manoir. I want to celebrate my English influence and connect with the region in which I’ve lived these last 30 years.
What one thing could you not live without?
A glass of red wine in the evening. I lived without it for 3 weeks when I broke my leg last month and I was as sick as a dog! I like Vieille Vignes, Frederic Magnien, Juvure Claude Bertin… – take your pick!
What should all good chefs remember?
You need to nurture and reinvent food. Even a recipe that you’ve known for 20 years needs to be revisted and improved. Like a relationship, you have to keep it alive. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
We were lucky enough to get a personal cookery lesson from Raymond who taught us how to make Tarte Tatin. Follow the delicious recipe here:
Raymond unveils his delicious Tarte Tatin using the new Raymond Blanc Tarte Tatin from the Emile Henry Flame range.
All we need now is lashings of custard….
200g All butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen
8 large Braeburn / Cox's apples, peeled, halved and cored
150g Sugar, caster
30g Butter, unsalted
Prepare the pastry. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to 2 mm thick and prick it all over with a fork. Transfer to a baking tray, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20–30 minutes to firm it up and prevent shrinkage whilst cooking. Cut out a 20 cm circle, using a plate or cake tin as a template and chill again.
Make the caramel. In a large, heavy-based saucepan (or the exclusively designed Raymond Blanc Tarte Tatin from Emile Henry), on a medium heat, cook the water and the sugar until it turns to a golden brown caramel. Stir in the butter and pour half the caramel into an 18 cm round baking tin 4–5 cm deep.
Precook the apples and fill the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C. In the remaining caramel, cook the apple halves in two batches for 3-4 minutes each time to thoroughly coat the apples then pour onto a tray to cook slightly.
Arrange the 12 apple halves upright around the edge of the tin to complete a full circle. In the middle sit half an apple, flat-side up, then top with another half apple. Cut the remaining apples into slices and wedge them into the empty spaces. You need to pack tight as many apple pieces as you can into the tin, so that you leave as little space as possible; this will give the perfect density and the perfect slice.
Bake and unmould the tarte. Place the tin in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the apples are partly cooked. Remove from the oven, place the puff pastry circle on top of the hot apples and tuck the edge of the pastry inside the tin. Cook for a further 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Place the tarte Tatin next to an open window, if possible, and leave for 1 hour, until barely warm. Slide the blade of a sharp knife full circle inside the tin to release the tarte. Place a large dinner plate over the tart and holding both tin and plate together, turn it upside down, shaking it gently sideways to release the tarte on to the plate. Serve with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.
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Emily Peck, Editor
View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor