Gina Baksa talks eggs, art and philosophy with the celebrity chef over breakfast at the iconic Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons
Raymond Blanc is in a jovial and expressive mood, beckoning me into the dining room for breakfast. Our very early meeting (I’m staying at Le Manoir overnight) is an entirely unarranged yet very welcome surprise; Monsieur Blanc has been a culinary hero of mine for years.
A hugely successful businessman, this pioneering, passionate Chef-Patron has trained 30 Michelin chefs, written books, starred in TV series, created the Brasserie Blanc restaurant group, launched a cookery school and is a director of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
His vision of “a hotel and restaurant in harmony where my guests would find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome” was awarded two Michelin stars in 1985 and has held on to them ever since.
I share with him my excitement at this, my first visit to the Belmond Le Manoir, and at the incredible seven-course tasting menu I enjoyed the night before.
“We have created an incredible team here, really an extraordinary team,” says Raymond, tapping his boiled egg with gusto. “It’s an ensemble and I am very proud of them. If you put all your love and your intelligence and your curiosity into what you do, you can create excellence. I don’t own the vision anymore which is great, it’s fantastic,” he smiles.
He sold his majority share in Le Manoir to Virgin, who eventually sold it on to Orient Express (later rebranded as Belmond.
“It leaves me room for more involvement in other aspects of the business and I can have more fun with my creativity.”
As if to illustrate the point, he leaps up and points to a glass screen next to our table, decorated with trees and other nature motifs.
“This represents the orchard we are creating. I’m still deciding on the colours. You see the green here? I might change it to blue.”
I tell him how much I love his attention to detail: in the gardens, the rooms, the menu – the whole Le Manoir experience is a work of art.
Each of the 32 rooms has an individual design, so I wonder aloud what his inspiration for the decor was.
“From my travels around the world,” Raymond replies. “The Jade Suite for example is a reflection of my trips to Japan. I love that country.”
The Lace Suite where I’m staying has a very sensual look and feel.
“Ah, the Lace… it’s like a Parisian boudoir,” he smiles knowledgeably, attacking the shell of his second egg. “Do you like the photographs?”
He’s referring to a selection of tasteful black and white shots of a model in lace appliqué lingerie.
I nod appreciatively.
“In order to create them I went a London agency, with Natalia my fiancée, and found the ideal models.”
So he was at the photo-shoot?
“Of course! I was directing it!” he replies, clearly relishing the memory. “Look at all the details in the Lace Suite – from the wallpaper to the chaise longues, and all the elements in the bathroom. I love all the detail. For sure I am a micro-idiot,” Raymond confesses.