Raymond Blanc confesses that he loves Britain. “I am a better Frenchman for having lived in your multicultural society. It has improved me enormously, broadened my mind and my views and enriched me as well.” Many of his friends are British, and it is in the heart of Oxfordshire (a truly British county), that his ‘Four Seasons Manor
’ stands as a testament to the two-Michelin starred chef's ‘imaginative genius’. He built Le Manoir from scratch – a grant from then prime minister Margaret Thatcher giving him the mortar from which to erect his culinary empire. Of course, he is a true Frenchman at heart. To listen to him speak is to hear the myriad trills and inflections of the French language come together with precision and flair, and to hear something of the old school of thought that France still holds onto so tightly; for Raymond is not just a chef, but a massive personality, an aesthete, a literary student, an interior designer (le Manoir’s garden is a tribute to his love of travel, culture, and herbal remedies),and most notably, an advocate of the ‘good life’ a la Parisienne.
‘Gee’ and Raymond will execute a five course 5-Michelin starred feast inside the beautiful Parisian restaurant
And after he enthuses for an hour about his involvement with the Quintessentially FT Weekend
, I am in no doubt that those privileged few that accompany him on a curated tour of Paris in May are in for a very special couple of days. For like all good classic literature, and all good chefs, and all good artists, he has an inexplicable something that ignites the passion of something you didn’t know you were passionate about. He has that je ne sais quoi we so often hear about. In his own words – “It will be a journey of friendship and conviviality at the highest level. I’m going to cook with my good friend Guy Martin (pronounced ‘Gee Martan’) of Le Grand Vefour… It will be about gastronomy, art, culture, joie de vivre…I think Paris, of all cities, is the greatest advocate of joie de vivre!” The bass in his voice reverberates down the phone, and his tone becomes more fluid and poetic as he recounts the itinerary for the Saturday night, during which ‘Gee’ and Raymond will execute a five course 5-Michelin starred feast inside the beautiful Parisian restaurant. “The place itself will be an enormous beautiful 18th
century room with high ceilings, huge windows. It’s got a fantastic history. The world’s greatest artists and writers came here. Picasso, Balzac, Sartre…” The tour will also feature two nights at the formidably luxurious Le Royal Monceau, brunch at chic eatery Minimes and lunch aboard a private boat on the Seine with live entertainment.
I love London for its great energy….but Paris transcends beauty and art. It transcends something classically beautiful. It has certain proportions…
His love of French literature is evident throughout (we rarely touch upon his cooking – a point that only crossed my mind on finishing the conversation); he cites Zola, Collette and the poetic masters Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud - “a very hedonistic mind. A wonderful, hugely creative mind” - as his favourites. And it is a page from Zola that he believes will set everyone up for a delightful tour of the Parisian markets on the Saturday morning. “I will read something hard and beautiful that will set them up for discovering the markets. 19th
century markets were exceptional.” Paris – hard and beautiful then, I wonder? Raymond answers the question by comparing its vivid contours with the voracious hub at the other end of the Euro Star line (of which Raymond is culinary director); “I love the huge avenues of Paris. The way they create light, space and beauty. The roof of Paris is unique. The shops are stylish. It’s a place of shopping and fashion and of magic. I love London for its great energy…. but Paris transcends beauty and art. It transcends something classically beautiful. It has certain proportions…” He trails off, but I get the point. This trip will be ‘Paris through Raymond’s eyes’. The Paris of the great painters and the great writers, with the bonus that he has all the necessary introductions and courtesies to make it a seriously lavish affair (La Pereuse with its notable ‘courtesan’ aesthetic is also en route, as are many other museums and cultural hubs).
And why has this curated ‘money-cant-buy’ experience proved so popular? Raymond sums it up with characteristic ease; “It’s a transfer of all that is good and enriching from both England and France. And it’s a fantastic way to celebrate that with my new friends.”
A few spaces still remain on the trip with Raymond. To have a chance of getting a space, please click here now. The Quintessentially FT Weekend will also go to Scotland in July for a weekend of golf and whisky, and Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire in October. For more information, please visit www.quintessentiallyftweekend.com.