Kitchen bullies should be jailed, says Raymond Blanc
Fighting talk: Raymond Blanc has attacked colleagues who bully in the kitchen and says he wants to stop the trauma some young chefs feel when they enter the kitchen
Raymond Blanc is preparing lunch in his two Michelin star Oxfordshire restaurant and hotel, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
A member of staff has failed to understand his instructions, but there’s no pan-throwing or swearing by Raymond, 63. The presenter of TV shows The Very Hungry Frenchman and Food & Drink smiles gently and patiently explains what he wants doing.
‘People who bully in the kitchen should be in jail,’ he says.
‘How would you feel if your son or daughter were being pushed around while working in a restaurant?
‘I’ve had trainee chefs who couldn’t cook or even touch ingredients because they were so traumatised by what they had endured before they came to me.
‘Tell me, why are there are many high- profile chefs on TV and yet we have a shortage of young chefs? Do you blame this culture of bullying for putting young people off entering the profession?
‘What angers me most is that it is so unnecessary.
A kitchen doesn’t have to be noisy with people shouting and pushing other people around. A good kitchen is a quiet kitchen and a quiet kitchen can still be a passionate kitchen.
‘If there’s a problem, the angry person can go outside, calm down and we can talk about it later.
Bawling at someone doesn’t help.
‘I had a guy in my kitchen who used to get very angry, so I sent him on a special training course and now he is the best manager of a kitchen I know.
‘Shouting at some guy in front of five million people on TV is cheap entertainment.’
Raymond is doing his bit to solve the problem.
Using his calm, quiet kitchen at Le Manoir, he prepares basic, tasty but healthy dishes in his new BBC2 series How To Cook Well.
‘I just want people to fall in love with cooking food again, to experience the passion I have for it,’ he says.
Passion: Raymond wants to try and get people to fall in love with cooking again in his new show and also hopes to inspire a new generation of cooks
‘And while it may sound corny, I do still have that passion for food.
I have taken off only two days in the past six months and they were spent shooting and fishing, and not actually catching salmon in Scotland. But it’s my nature to take on too much.’
Raymond’s passion is plain to see.
The man who suffered two mini strokes aged 42, caused by stress and overwork, talks 19 to the dozen.
He gets so wrapped up discussing food and preparing dishes at the same time that he develops a migraine.
Revived by a small rest, he’s back on the case again, only to be stopped in his tracks once more, this time by a crumb of food that threatens to choke him when he is once more talking non-stop.
Raymond may be a workaholic, but he still knows how to have fun. He appeared on the comedy show Miranda and he has self-deprecation down to a fine art.
‘Not good. I spend my whole life being late.’
Technical skills? ‘Very limited,’ he says, as he loses a fight with a food blender. ‘I can just about switch a gadget on and off.’
‘I concentrate on detail and lose sight of the bigger picture. I am a micro idiot.’
Talent as a cook? Those two Michelin stars say it all, but there has been the occasional disaster along the way, to which he is only too happy to confess.
Michelin stars: Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons hotel and restaurant in Oxfordshire
He was sacked as a waiter from the Michelin-starred Le Palais de la Biere in his home city of Besancon, after getting under the skin of the head chef.
‘I would tell him how to improve his dishes by reducing the amount of salt and to add lemon juice when it was needed,’ he says.
‘He hit me and knocked me out.
I lost my teeth and my job and was exiled to England.’
And then there was the incident at the Dorchester Hotel . . .
‘Years ago, when I was the new kid in town, the supposedly brilliant young cook who had just arrived in London, I was invited by Egon Ronay to cook at the Dorchester for 50 people, including Anton Mosimann and Michel Roux — all the top guys.
‘I didn’t prepare properly and when I came to serve the puff pastry it was leaking and the turbot was raw. It was an unqualified disaster.
‘The worst thing was the polite applause I received from the diners, this damning by faint praise.
I learned lessons that day I have never forgotten.’
Workaholic: Raymond suffered two mini strokes aged 42 because of stress and overwork hemp seed oil and prostate cancer has been known to develop a migraine when thinking about dishes
Raymond passed on his passion for food and his approach to life to his sons, Sebastien, 36, and Olivier, 32.
They were given the opportunity to follow him into his kitchen and become chefs. Both declined.
‘I gave them the best education money could buy so they could choose what they wanted to do with their lives.
‘Sebastien took a law degree, but hated it, so I sent him to the best hotels in the world so he could be a hotelier.
When he came through with flying colours, I was the happiest papa in the world.
‘Then he told me he wanted to be an actor — I hit the roof! But he said something that changed it all: “I have found what I want do with my life, I have a passion for it.” And then I understood.
‘Olivier is also an actor and illustrates books. He has created a website and app called Henri Le Worm, in which I am the hero. It’s about introducing children to the idea of better food.
‘The last thing I would have wanted for either of them would have been to do a job they hated, especially in a tough industry such as restaurants, where people can bully those they are supposed to be helping.
‘I sincerely hope that culture is changing, for all the young people who will otherwise suffer and be put off cooking for life.’
- How To Cook Well, BBC2, Sunday, 11.45am, and Monday, 8.30pm.