Ahead of Mother's Day, we speak to the nation's favourite French chef Raymond Blanc about his beloved mother, Maman Blanc. The self-taught chef, who boasts two Michelin stars at his Oxfordshire Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, 20 brasseries across the country, numerous cookbooks and even the famous Raymond Blanc cookery school, exclusively shares memories of growing up in the village of Saone in eastern France with HELLO! Online, the recipes his dear mum made for him in her pressure cooker, and fondly remembers cooking for the Queen Mother. He also reveals his favourite London restaurants of the moment for you to take your mum this Mother's Day. Or better still, you can have a go at his very own menu...
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Raymond Blanc pictured with Maman Blanc when he received an honorary OBE
What is your earliest memory of cooking with Maman Blanc?
I often went with my late father to forage in the forest and we brought back our fruits for Maman to cook. I was her assistant in the kitchen, peeling, topping and tailing French beans and chopping the freshly picked, organic vegetables we had picked from the garden that day. I sometimes wondered what it would be like to go and play football with my friends!
Can you tell us your most vivid memories/moments of cooking with your mother as a young boy growing up in the village of Saone, in the Franche-Comte region of eastern France?
I have many memories of the family gatherings around the table. The kitchen was the heart of the home. It represented conviviality and times to celebrate the food we had worked so hard to harvest. And, of course, as a family we would have heated discussions too. Remember we were no less than 7 people at each meal, and at holiday time, that number grew and grew! Never a dry moment for conversation.
Raymond Blanc's beetroot salad, hot smoked salmon and horseradish crème fraiche
What was your favourite dish as a boy?
I recall feasting on a comté cheese soufflé. A truly lovely little dish that rose to order and it totally amazed me how one could create such a spectacular dish from eggs and cheese. Oh, and of course, this must be made with my local Comté cheese.
What's the most important thing your mother ever taught you when it came to cooking?
She instilled values which I have stuck by throughout my career… fresh, local and seasonal ingredients and made with the art of giving. We picked ours from the garden and they were all organic as they are here today in at Le Manoir gardens. I did my apprenticeship as a gardener before becoming a cook!
The happy chef at his two-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
You're a self-taught chef that's held two Michelin stars for 30 years, and your mother had a huge part to play in your culinary education. What values did she instill in you, when it came to cooking and life in general?
Cooking food is an expression of love, that is what I learnt from my Mum's cooking. We were a large busy family of young children and she loved to feed us the best wholesome food that nourished us from the inside out. That is a good feeling for the soul. So today I cook because I truly love it and I hope that shines through in the dishes we serve. England has taught me to be a better Frenchman and I can laugh at myself.
What recipes do you cook to win over your mother for Mother's Day?
I have to take into consideration by Mum's age although she is very active in the garden today and full of life. She still bounces around the kitchen and her garden!
I would cook her a simple locally caught fish, carefully filleted so there were no surprises, pan fried with broad beans and sprinkled with pea shoots. She loves her puddings and so do I, so we would relish a crème caramel together. And of course she would have to be honoured with a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Raymond's mother cooked boeuf bourguignon in her pressure cooker; click photograph for recipe
What royal or famous personality has made you most nervous of cooking for?
That must have been shortly after I opened the doors of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons here in Great Milton. I had seen this beautiful Manor house from the road and with a little persistence, my dream became real. We were honoured to host HM The Queen Mother as her horse trainer lived very close by. She visited us one day when she was in Oxfordshire. What an honour! I was nervous indeed, but the meal was a roaring success. I slept well that night! Indeed, we have many celebrities through our doors but they come here to relax and enjoy their time in this "little corner of France" and we absolutely respect that. Most of them enjoy the fact that they can have a quiet time with their friends or family without being hassled.
What's your favourite restaurant in London at the moment?
There is so much happening in London, it truly is one of the best capitals in the world for choice and variety and authenticity. I often eat out in the city but of course there are my favourites, maybe it's because I know these chefs and many trained with me here at Le Manoir. So you will often see me at restaurants such as Dabbous (chef Ollie Dabbous), Grain Store (chef Bruno Loubet), Texture (Chef Agnar Sverrisson and sommelier Xavier Rousset) and not forgetting Brasserie Chavot (chef Eric Chavot).
The French Michelin-starred chef owns 20 brasseries across the country and has published several cookbooks
You have taught renowned chefs across the country including Heston Blumenthal. What are your top tips for cooking French food?
Keep it simple, keep it fresh. Let the flavours of the ingredients do the talking. No more than two or three steps can create wonderful dishes.
Best vegetables to eat that are in or coming into season?
For those of you who know me, you know that eating foods from the seasons is always something that we should do. Not only does it maximise our foods freshness, it helps us to appreciate what our seasons have to offer. Spring is knocking on our door and coming so get ready for British asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes, watercress and radishes.
Raymond Blanc's pears poached in white wine, lemon, cinnamon, star anise take just 15 minutes
You're launching a new pressure cooker. What dishes do you remember Maman Blanc using it for when you were little? And what dishes is it perfect for cooking?
Bien sur, the pressure cooker was without doubt used by Maman Blanc, it was part of her brigade, she would often use it to braise vegetables from the garden, to cooking joints of meat to perfection for her hungry flock. I can still hear it hissing on the stove and that does bring back memories of my childhood. It really is a healthy and simple way to cook for your family and friends.
A perfect dish to prepare in the pressure cooker?
There are many dishes that can be cooked and enhanced by this method but of course being a Frenchman, I turn to the pressure cooker to prepare a hearty boeuf bourguignon, with crusty bread to soak up all the flavours. Of course, a glass of Pinot Noir will add that something extra.
Raymond Blanc's new pressure cooker is now available
What do you like to use pressure cookers for the most?
Again, it is simple way of cooking. In today’s society we are all so busy running from here to there and everywhere so it is a wonderful time saver, and allows you to spend more time with your loved ones… just sit back and let the pressure cooker do all the hard work!
It is fantastic for preparing a warming bowl of soup with local, fresh vegetables. I can be impulsive so when I see a beautiful selection of vegetables from the Le Manoir potager, I will quickly fill my pressure cooker with this assortment of produce and then devour a comforting, nutritious bowl of soup.
Raymond Blanc's new pressure cooker is available for £125 from raymondblanc.com.