How We Met: Raymond Blanc & Agnar Sverrisson

'He spent two days at the hospital with me, then had a 10-course dinner sent to my room'

Raymond Blanc, 60, opened Les Quat'Saisons, his first restaurant, in Oxford in 1977. Seven years later, he opened the country-house hotel and restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, which has had two Michelin stars for 19 years. He lives in Oxfordshire

Aggi arrived at Le Manoir as chef de partie in 2001, not cocky, but a very confident cook, and I noticed immediately that the team liked him. He has a generous personality and he can be one of the team as well as a leader – what he cares about is the final achievement.

Aggi rose quickly, which is tough in a kitchen of 42, but he is a perfectionist and I love people who are driven by a sense of things never being good enough. Once you say it is good enough, you are out of the game. He was always probing, always asking questions.

Even back then, he had his own identity. Chefs today travel so much, they have many more influences than they did before. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can result in confusion for the chef, and then for the people he is cooking for.

What I like about Aggi is that while embracing different cultures, he keeps his own Icelandic identity precious. There's no doubt that he loves fish, and Texture, the restaurant he now owns, is to fish what St John is to offal – all those different ways of preparing, marinating, presenting it.

Although I knew he was a brilliant cook, I was fearful about whether he could translate it into areas where he was untested: design; business. But everything has worked out perfectly. Few businesses have what Aggi and his sommelier Xavier have when they start – most chefs' first kitchen is a rat-hole, and here they are at the best address in London. They have been lucky, but hard work creates luck.

My greatest pleasure is to see young people who have worked with me in their own restaurants. Coming to Texture is like my second home; I can turn up at any time, be welcomed with a "Hello, Chef," and we'll sit down and share some fish and wine.

Aggi worked a lot with my executive chef Gary Jones, and we agreed that the only bad thing about him was that he swears like a trooper. A kitchen should be a serene place. I think it was a lack of confidence. I've lost it myself in the past, so I understand that that kind of behaviour comes from frustration, but to be a great chef you need to manage yourself as well as others. I've learnt that, and I think he has too.

Agnar Sverrisson, 35, trained in his native Iceland, before working at Gordon Ramsay's Pétrus. He became head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons before setting up the Michelin-starred Texture in 2007 with Le Manoir's head sommelier, Xavier Rousset. He lives in west London

Everyone wants to work for Raymond. You look at the number of Michelin-starred chefs he has trained and you don't need to say any more. I met him just after I was hired by Gary, the executive chef at Le Manoir. Obviously, Raymond is a big, big, chef so I was nervous as fuck. I thought it would be a two-minute hello, but he was extremely friendly and chatted to me for a long time about my past, my dreams.

What I love about his food is the freshness, the cleanness, the seasonality. When I arrived at Le Manoir, all I knew was reduced, heavy sauces, gluey food. I didn't know anything about seasonal food – and I had been working at very good restaurants in London. I don't think people understand how ahead of his time Raymond was. He was doing things 20 years ago that chefs are only now discovering.

Working at Le Manoir was tough. I stayed for five years, but for the first two I said to myself every other day, "I think I'm going to leave soon." Those first years were very difficult simply because there was so much to learn. Everyone is nervous when Raymond is around and, to begin with, I was scared whenever he came to taste anything. It was always, "This isn't good, that's not good." But slowly you start to know what he is looking for.

First and foremost, what I learnt from Raymond is that it's all about flavours. He has the best palate I have known and he taught me how you can train your own palate. He loves blind tastings, so he will take 10 or 15 glasses with different mixtures of water and salt, for example, and you have to pick out which is the right level of saltiness that you want in a dish.

I remember going with him to Chicago to cook once and I got sick and had to go to hospital. That really showed me who he was as a person, because he spent two days at the hospital with me. He even had a 10-course dinner sent to me in my hospital room from the best restaurant in the city.

When Gary offered me a head chef position after two-and-a-half years, I wanted to leave, because my dream has always been to open my own restaurant, but I knew it would open so many doors.

I kept working on my plans for Texture, though, and Raymond was very supportive at every stage – I must have taken the business plan to him to look at 1,000 times. Every time he told me to change it slightly.

When Raymond came to the restaurant for the first time I was very proud and confident that he would like it. What made me proudest, though, was that he seemed to be proud of me.

Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones will be cooking at Agnar Sverrisson's Texture, (34 Portman Street, London W1, 020 7224 0028,, in September

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star