Cheltenham Brasserie Blanc
PUBLISHED: 16:52 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013
This is not just another chain, but has Raymond's identity stamped all over the menus. By Mark Taylor, photography by Mike Charity.
Raymond Blanc wants to put the record straight. He wants people to realise that the recently refurbished Cheltenham Brasserie Blanc is more than simply another link in the chain.
Although best-known as the chef/proprietor of Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, Blanc is equally as committed to the recently rebranded Brasserie Blanc restaurants.
There are now eight Brasserie Blancs around the UK including Cheltenham, with a new one launched in Bristol last month and plans for one in Bath next year. They are relaxed, informal places to enjoy classic French brasserie fare, from Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter to a 14oz T-bone with frites, all washed down with regional French wine.
With the brasseries, Blanc's aim was always to offer high-quality, seasonal French food at affordable prices and he hates the idea that people might regard them as simply 'yet another chain'.
Blanc is a director and co-owner of the brasserie group and oversees the menus and dishes with Clive Fretwell, who trained under him at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons 25 years ago. Although he doesn't cook in the brasseries, Blanc hopes the customers realise his identity is stamped all over the menus.
"All of our specialities each day come from local producers. We're not just trying to roll out a specials board across the country, but to give each restaurant its own local identity and to use as many local producers as possible.
"My role is head of the brand, but every dish is created or accepted by me. I'm still extremely involved in the creative side. I just let the business people run the business side.
"You have to accept that you can not be everything. You can not be the top businessman, the top craftsman, the top IT person. You have to delegate and that doesn't mean handing out everything, but delegating to people who can truly achieve your vision."
Raymond Blanc may be one of the most celebrated chefs in the world, but he still puts it all down to the 'apprenticeship' he had with his mother.
Born in Besanon, France, in 1949, Blanc's Oxfordshire restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons has held two Michelin stars for the last 22 years and he has trained some of the UK's top chefs, including Marco Pierre White and Michael Caines, but he has never forgotten his roots.
"I came from a very working class background and I'm totally self-taught," says Blanc, who began his career in England as a waiter in 1972.
"My apprenticeship was at home under Maman Blanc so she was very influential. She's the cornerstone of my success and I still cook with her approach in mind - the approach of simplicity, using local produce whenever you can and making it simple but delicious."
Blanc's career started almost by accident when he took over the cooking at the Rose Revived restaurant. He was the waiter and when his chef became ill, Blanc stepped in at the last minute. He has never looked back.
Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons opened in 1984, when he was just 28 years old, and it reached Michelin starred status within one year. The restaurant is now synonymous with the very best in fine dining and hospitality.
After three decades of cooking, Blanc says that he hasn't really changed as a chef. If anything, he's gone back to where he started.
"I was always ingredient-driven so those values are not new to me as it's part of my culture. I was almost born with them.
"I always remember when I was only seven years old, my father picked up a handful of earth in our garden and told me to look at it, smell it and taste it.
"You didn't argue with the old man so I did as I was told. He explained afterwards that it was to make me understand the importance of soil, whether it's acidic or neutral and with that knowledge, I would know which soil would be best for growing different vegetables.
"Because of childhood experiences like that, I have a deep knowledge about seasonality and local produce."
Of course, one thing that has changed since Blanc arrived in Britain is that he has become part of the celebrity chef culture, although it's not something he takes too much notice of.
"I don't like the term 'celebrity chef' and it's purely incidental. I do think things are changing for the better though and the TV food programmes are going to be more conceptual from now.
"The viewers don't want brain-numbing, cheap entertainment anymore, they want to know about the food, and people like Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are making some very good, intelligent programmes.
"I still cook and I still enjoy cooking, but you have to accept that there are a lot of balls to be juggled, what with the books, cookery demonstrations, the TV ... and my involvement with Brasserie Blanc, of course."
Brasserie Blanc, The Queen's Hotel, The Promenade, Cheltenham. Tel: 01242 266 800