07 March, 2007

A Celebration of Cookery books Part III: Recipes from Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons by Raymond Blanc

Most cooks probably have one book which sets them off on learning to cook. This is mine which I now realise is pretty strange. The story is this. I come from a family of cooks. My grandmother was a wonderful cook, my mother is also a wonderful cook, as is my uncle, my cousins, you get the picture. Grandma always used to say that she learnt to cook because she was greedy. We all love to eat. But I didn't do much cooking at home and so when I left home really wasn't a very confident cook. And the food at college was dire. I even toyed with vegetarianism for a while, though a weekend at my grandparents' house and a roast duck or so usually sorted me out.

Anyway in 1987 or '88 this book was published and launched at Blackwells in Oxford with a cooking demonstration by the author. The shop put a small oven in what was then the history section and the public gathered to see him cook and taste some food. Mostly the audience was made up of smart Oxfordshire types who clearly knew the restaurants Raymond Blanc ran. But two of us were not very well off students. I can remember people clambering politely over chairs to reach the souffles he'd just cooked and having to limit themselves to just one mouthful. M. Blanc was inspirational, made what he did seem easy, and my friend and I bought the book and had him sign it. Despite or because he was French he added an n to my name and wrote the message in French "To Elianne - Au service de l'amitie et des plaisirs de la table. Best wishes. Raymond Blanc". Jane and I got the bug, especially Jane. And after that we used to cook what now seem ludicrous meals from the book which took a day to shop for (thank God for the Covered Market), and longer to cook.

We cooked Tartelette soufflee aux framboises (beautiful raspberry souffles baked in individual pate sucree cases), Chartreuse aux pointes d'asperges de poireaux a l'infusion de cerfeuil, pan fried Grand Marnier souffle, served on a crepe basted with orange butter, guinea fowl with red currants, sea bass with a Pernod mousse on fennel, crab souffles in sole with pink grapefruit. And all from a small dark kitchen in the basement of our house, which was infested with slugs. Bonkers.

I do not cook like this anymore. The style takes too long for me, and I'm not very neat so presentation was always Jane's strong point and not mine. But I do remember the enthusiasm for food that he gave off that evening, and his strong advocacy of fresh, local, high quality ingredients. He is a great chef and I would love to go to Le Manoir some time. The book rarely comes off my shelf these days. Still, once I did bake perfect raspberry souffles ...

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