Raymond Blanc OBE opened his first Brasserie Blanc 21 years ago in Oxford. Offering traditional French cuisine, he now owns 18 restaurants nationwide. Chef Blanc reveals his favourite dishes and dinner party tips...
1. Brasserie Blanc celebrates its 21st birthday this week. How have things changed over the decades? Can you pick a favourite moment?
Brasserie Blanc was one of the first to offer a set menu at a competitive price. Fifteen years ago the lunch menu was £12 including wine and today it's the same price - but the wine isn't included now. There are so many moments, both personal and professional, but I would have to say the opening of my first brasserie in Walton Street in my ‘home town’ Oxford, and receiving my OBE have been particular highlights.
2. It must be hard to choose but do you have a favourite dish to cook on the menu?
If I had to pick one - which is a not an easy task! - I think it would have to be the cheese soufflé or boeuf bourguignon as they represent the true flavours of my Franche-Comté region. They're heady and rustic.
But right now, my favourite dish is the sumptuous bouillabaisse.
3. Who was the inspiration behind your decision to be a chef?
Without a single doubt, it was my wonderful, formidable Maman who my sons call ‘Mother Theresa on speed!’ Watching her as she effortlessly whipped up my favourite dishes - like boeuf bourguignon and tarte au citron - is where I learned that the freshness of the ingredients is key.
4. If you're cooking at home, what's your signature dish to make for a dinner party?
You cannot beat a truly melt in the mouth, light as air soufflé. My Comte cheese soufflé continues to be one of my favourites and is always guaranteed to delight my guests.
5. What new chefs do you think we should look out for?
Clive Fretwell, the Executive Chef of Brasserie Blanc, may not hold Michelin stars but he is one of the greatest craftsmen - every season we work together to create a new menu. On the French side, Anne Sophie-Pic is a truly brilliant chef.
6. Finally, London is a city full of amazing restaurants but where do you like to eat?
London is a truly multi-cultural centre of creative excellence with so many talents within. Some of my favourites include Zuma and Roka for the best Japanese; for tapas, Barrafina; for Italian Locanda Locatelli or Zafferano; for Indian Gymkhana or Benares; for French, Michel Roux at Le Gavroche.
In celebration of Brasserie Blanc's 21st birthday, dishes from the original 1996 menu are being brought back this week and there are special birthday promotions until April 9.