'I never learnt to cook, but in two years my place had two Michelin stars'
Raymond Blanc was born in Franche-Comte and was inspired to cook by his mother. In 1972 he came to England to work as a waiter at the Rose Revived in Witney. The head chef fell ill one day and Blanc took over. Soon after, he opened a restaurant with his wife, Le Quat'Saisons. His main restaurant today, La Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, has two Michelin stars.
What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?
Most used is one thing that not enough people use: a cooking thermometer, that goes right to the centre of your soufflé or your meat. It allows me to understand the mystery part of cooking, the thing you can't see. People generally have no idea what is going on inside food and end up with cold roast beef and overdone chicken. Not with this. Least used? My pestle and mortar. It is beautiful, just not so often used.
If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
This reminds me of when I was 17. I spent the summer harvesting everything I could get and selling the produce to restaurateurs. So I made about that, well, maybe a bit more. And it came to midday and the clock in my stomach said: "food". As that happened I was walking past an haute-cuisine restaurant in my town. The smell drew me and I went in and ordered kidneys with a Rhône valley wine. The place is called Le Poker d'As and it is still there, but my £10 wouldn't get me a meal now.
What do you eat for comfort?
When I come back at 10 or 11 o'clock at night I have smoked ham. The British have nearly mastered it now, massively improved – it used to be all dry. But the ham I much prefer is from Franche-Comte, my home town. They have an extraordinary way of curing there.
If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Bread, without hesitation. My parents, my father an atheist communist, and mother a guilty Catholic, used to buy these massive loaves of 3 kilos. Only my father would cut the bread. He would take his knife and put a cross on the bread. When I was 12 or 13 I built the courage and asked him, why do that if you hate God? He says, "my son, the value of bread is everything. "
What's your desert island recipe?
It is a very simple thing. When I go back to France, Maman Blanc goes down to the bakery every day to get baguette for her son. She is 91. I take it, cut it length ways down the middle and use masses of cold unsalted butter (probably about two slabs on it) then I spread on raspberry jelly. It is lovely.
What's your favourite restaurant?
I love Dabbous. Oli Dabbous has a good head on his shoulders and a real talent; he loves his food.
What's your favourite cookbook?
It is called Cooking In 10 Minutes and was written by Édouard Pomiane. He was a microbiologist at the Sorbonne in the 1800s. It is the most beautiful book to read.
Who taught you to cook?
No one taught me how to cook. Which was a problem. When we bought Le Quat'Saisons we invested everything and we had to make out of that thing a restaurant. I had never studied under a chef. But in two years that small place had two Michelin stars in three years, for that little humble place.
Raymond Blanc will be at Taste of London, 20-23 June. tastefestivals.com/london
Independent News Service