How did you get interested in food?
My mother, my aunt and my grandmother were all incredible cooks. My grandmother was an alchemist, she would make extraordinary dishes – I still remember her blanquette de veau with mushroom jus and yoghurt. She gave all that knowledge to my mum, who passed it onto me.
What was the first dish you ever cooked?
It was crêpes suzette and it was a total disaster! I was 12 years old, and because men didn’t cook in post-war France, I was just a minion in the kitchen. With crêpes suzette, you start by making your pancakes, which I was so proud of – they were better than my grandmother’s. Then I poured the caramel and the Grand Marnier into the pan… and there was an explosion. The caramel started bubbling up and the dish burst into tiny fragments. Everyone laughed at me for years – the great chef who blew up his first dish.
How did you become a chef?
Everyone has got a passion; it’s just a matter of finding it. There was a very posh restaurant in my hometown, and the first time I saw the carving of the cheese, the flambéing of the crêpes suzette, and the waiters in their purple jackets, I fell in love. I said at that moment that I would become the craftsman who created these beautiful dishes. So I became the best cleaner in town, then I became the best glass washer, and then the best waiter. I was so enthusiastic that one day I told the chef to add a bit of lemon juice and seasoning to his dish... and he smashed a pan in my face. I lost my tooth, my job, and was exiled to England. I came to England with a big dream in my heart. The first dish I ever made as a cook made the restaurant go so quiet that I knew that one day I would be a very good chef.
What is your ethos when it comes to food?
I like simple, delicious home cooking: it’s all about seasonality. Rustic flavours needn’t be heavy. I’m inspired by Maman Blanc’s values – she never put stock in her sauces. Lightness, creativity, daring: I’m a micro-idiot, I look at detail.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Le Manoir is all about opera, so when I come back home, I want total simplicity. Late at night, I’d have some broad beans with feta cheese and a bit of olive oil and garlic, and a glass of pinot noir. If I’m entertaining friends, it’s different. Then I’d do boeuf bourguignon or a slow-cooked leg of lamb, cooked very simply with seasonal vegetables and beautiful goose fat roast potatoes.
Where do you like to eat in Yorkshire?
I used to go to the Tontine. Yorkshire is a great place – we have the Brasserie in Leeds that we are very happy with. It’s great to see Leeds getting busier, it’s really moving up.
Who have you most enjoyed working with over the years?
I’ve trained about a quarter of the Michelin-starred chefs in England, but one I remember very well is Bradford-born Clive Fretwell. He joined as my commis many years ago, I trained him for about five years and he became a Head Chef at Le Manoir for 15 years. He’s now the Head Executive Chef at all the Brasserie Blancs in England. He’s an amazing man, a brilliant craftsman, and Yorkshire through-and-through. A real story of success.
Has anyone been difficult to work with?
There have been a few bad boys – Marco Pierre White was one. Another boy from the North! He was a naughty boy, but a great chef: there are so fantastic cooks in Yorkshire.
How has the gastronomic world changed since you started out?
When I moved to England in 1972, the British people hated food. It was the land of fast food, processed food and intensive farming: food had been reduced to a mere commodity. Nowadays, the creative spirit of Britain has reinvented itself. We are discerning, we are fed by knowledge, and chefs are reconnecting with the true values of gastronomy – their history, their landscape and their soul. It’s a truly exciting time.
Eat like Raymond at the Brasserie Blanc Leeds...
Maman Blanc’s salads
For a taste of rural French simplicity, try the apple & walnut salad
For the main event
Raymond’s staple entertaining dish, and a French classic, with red wine, lardons, baby onions, mushrooms and mash
The first dish Raymond ever made – and still a firm favourite: pancakes with orange and Cointreau sauce and vanilla ice cream