'Deeper beauty' of food lost on young chefs, claims Blanc

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The Independent Online

Raymond Blanc, the veteran restaurateur, has criticised the standard of young chefs and claimed that most aspiring kitchen stars do not recognise good food.

The Frenchman, whose Oxfordshire restaurant has maintained two Michelin stars for 22 years, said trainees arrived with such poor gastronomic skills they had to be retrained in basic skills such as seasoning.

Young chefs often came from backgrounds where they had grown up with junk food that had warped their culinary skills, he complained. In an interview with The Independent, the culinary inspiration behind Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons said: "We are lucky to have been now for 27 years the number one or two restaurants in this country so we attract the good quality of young people.

"But still, having said that, these young people need to be retrained in some way to understand what wonderful food is about; that is the foundation of the ultimate experience at the table.

"Eighty or 90 per cent of chefs don't recognise good ingredients, whether it is butter, a beautiful olive oil, or a piece of meat or fish," he added.

The chef, in whose kitchen Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal trained, believes that young chefs are victims of a food culture that ignores quality.

"There is a lost generation in a way," he said. "From 50 years ago we have embraced intensive farming followed by heavily processed food, heavily marketed food - where cheap food became a virtue, the cheaper the better.

"And most of these chefs, often because they come from backgrounds which are not wealthy, have been subjected to this type of food. Which means they are used to high salt level, high sugar level, high colouring level and these young chefs have got to reconnect with what makes great meat or vegetables or great food in general."

Blanc, who was speaking at a Commons reception organised by the anti-salt campaign Cash, has been a critic of television chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, who have in turn ridiculed him.

His views on trainees will be taken seriously by the industry because he has run a prestigious restaurant for decades and has been championing local and organic foods for 20 years.

Blanc, whose fortune is estimated at £7m, warned: "Like the consumer, the chef often goes for aesthetics, what looks food. But something which looks good may be rotten inside or may not be as good as another piece of food, another piece of meat or fish, which may not be so attractive but the quality may be better. Chefs need to reconnect with that deeper beauty.

"I spend most of my time working very hard at teaching young chefs, for example, that beef tastes better from May to December, that fish have seasons. The moment the young chef starts to cook sole or turbot during the months of May to July, when the fish is spawning, they are not only eating a second quality produce they are also undermining the repopulation of the sea.

"Every act of cooking has got an impact, on the environment, on the supply chain, on everything."

Blanc said he "buried his national flag" years ago and had been privileged to work in the UK, but went on: "I would say in France, Spain, Italy - all the great countries of food culture - India, China, all the south-east Asian countries, Greece or even Poland, these are closer to the food than most British chefs are.

"And they need to reconnect and that's going to take some time. These young chefs are lost, they are really lost and I know many of my colleagues would recognise that."

Improving British food would be "a painful journey," he warned. "You cannot reverse 60 years of neglect and ignorance about food miraculously."

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