My childhood was probably a cliché of French rural life. It established the foundation and the structure of my approach as much to cuisine as to people. At the age of seven, my father took me to the garden, made me take a handful of earth, look at it, smell it, taste it! And of course, I was very much involved in all the toiling in the garden, whilst my friends were playing football. Then the veg would be picked, topped, tailed, and cooked by my mother and often bottled for the winter. From the age of seven, I was also a hunter-gatherer across the woods of Franche-Comte where there are fields growing numerous types of wonderful produce - mushrooms, chanterelles, wild asparagus, wild berries and flowers. All that we picked would be handed to my Mum to create a simple creative act of cooking and the rest sold on the side of the street. This gave me a good understanding of the cycles - and also made me a rich young man by the age of 10!
If we had chicken or rabbit, I would do everything to prepare it for the cooking pot - So food was very much at the heart of our house. But so was the gift of food - food was an act of love which was to be shared with the people you love, your family. All of those values have permeated my own approach to cooking and preparing food.
As a boy in Besançon, I saw the pleasure people had in eating in a restaurant and thought "I want to give that pleasure to people myself.” It's about having the ability to engage yourself in what you're doing. I cannot say that I'm more of a genius than anybody else, but I can say, I worked a little bit harder than most people. You can't be the best at everything. I knew enough to surround myself with excellent people, a great team.
What was your most moving culinary experience?
When I was asked to cook for some very young children from our local Marsen Hospital, Oxford. These children, aged between 7 and 10, were doing poorly with cancer and leukemia - they were so receptive and appreciative of my food.
The most amusing kitchen incident you ever witnessed?
My favorite guest, by thousands of miles, was the Queen Mum. Here's a little story, completely true. I cooked so many times for her, one day she turned to me and said, 'Monsieur Blanc, you've done a lot for me, but I've actually done very little for you. What should I do for you?' And then she answered her own question, and said, “I know what I'll do for you, I will come to Le Manoir.” And so she did. On a beautiful August day, three Bentley’s arrive with the royal flags and so on. The Queen Mum came out, with many of her beautiful friends, about 50 of them, all dressed up in bright colors. She ate in the main room with all of the customers. It was the most beautiful spectacle. She turned to me, after the meal, and asked me, “What is your greatest achievement, Mr. Blanc?' I thought, “Oh, my God, what should I say?'” I said, trying to be clever, that my greatest achievement was getting 200 Englishmen and women to sing La Marseillaise with their hands over their hearts. By this time, everybody in the restaurant turned grey - they couldn't believe I'd said that to her. But she turned to me, with a huge smile, and she changed her cane to her left hand, stood up, and said, “I, too, Mr. Blanc, will sing La Marseillaise.” It was incredible. She was about 92 at that point, and she still insisted on seeing all the staff of my restaurant, and shook the hand of every one of them. Now that's class.
Your best piece of advice for amateur chefs?
Never cook a new dish for your guests. Always try it out on your long suffering family and close friends. Good food starts with wholesome ingredients. Use only the freshest, seasonal food, organic where possible, to ensure wholesomeness and nutritional quality. Always try to have your starter and dessert prepared and ready so you can work on the main course whilst your guests are there.