Internationally acclaimed chef and owner of Winchester restaurant talks of his love for spring produce

Hampshire Chronicle: The self-taught chef, from the Franche-Comté region in the east, began his career in Oxfordshire The self-taught chef, from the Franche-Comté region in the east, began his career in Oxfordshire

WITH such heartfelt passion it’s not a wonder his food is acclaimed as some of the best in the world.

Raymond Blanc, owner of Brasserie Blanc on Jewry Street, Winchester, is as boisterous as he is charming and his love and warmth comes across in every dish.

The self-taught chef, from the Franche-Comté region in the east, began his career in Oxfordshire working as a waiter at the Rose Revived restaurant. Since then he has gone on to earn two Michelin stars, write numerous cookbooks and has appeared on many TV cookery shows including his own series.

But it’s not fame and fortune that drives him. He does it all because he loves fresh food and with a new season comes new produce.

“Every restaurant should change its menu according to season,” he said. “All food here is cooked in house but cooking in season all the time can be a cost nightmare — but we have done it.

“I’ve been to the Hampshire farmers’ markets and they are wonderful, because they have local produce here ready and customers can know what they are buying. People now want knowledge of their food so much more than they did say 30 years ago and consumers will realise you will pay 30 per cent extra to bring in local food.”

If there’s any doubt as to whether Hampshire produce is good enough for such a renowned chef well just watch his charismatic smile widen at the mention of lambs and asparagus.

“There are many great food sources here, including watercress, buffalo milk, pheasants and other game, all these wonderful things.

“To import food from millions of miles you create pollution but by being local you can be fresh. We just have to import it and equally what you have to understand is it changes all the time.

“Winchester — it’s a beautiful city, you’re blessed with the most incredible city. You have a very loyal base of customers. There’s so much great produce here full of love that you love to eat. There is a healthy business here as well and, for me, a restaurant is not just about food; it connects with every other part of the community like a post office or a church or whatever. It really is that important.”

“It has a role to play in the community. It’s as important as museum or university, it’s full of colour and fun which adds something to the city.”

His inspiration? Look no further than where he grew up.

“We go back to the seasons and ‘ma maman’. She is the cornerstone to my kitchen and to my students because I teach them the important things she gave to me. We try to teach them about quality, community, waste management, working with suppliers, every product. It’s about being close to home.”

This idea of home emanates through to his staff, his suppliers and even his furnishings. If Brasserie Blanc hadn’t shown enough support for local producers with its food, their choice in decor does the job with local artist Jenny Muncaster’s works adorning the walls.

“It’s not a group, it’s the ability to be the link Brasserie, the part of the city both in business and in the community and that is why it’s such a success in Winchester,” he added. “We are well established but still growing and that’s because of how strong the community is. We have chefs here who we train and nurture who in return cook wonderful food and stay loyal to us because of what a strong community feel we have.”

It’s hard to ignore Monsieur Blanc’s charismatic smile as he talks about his favourite seasonal dish and with spring just turning the corner the smile widens and that sparkle comes to life.

“I must say spring is the most difficult part, we still have to work hard because you don’t have the seasons that the French do. But for me it will always be asparagus. Our producers come from near Laverstock Farm. And I think of lamb.

“But then I have got a bit of a sweet tooth. I love floating islands and apple tart and tarte tartin. But I love all food and I love |to eat seasonably.”

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