Generally, the English were very open and friendly towards me, but it was very different at work. I remember my employer looking through me rather than at me. As a waiter in England at that time, you were a master of servitude, one of the little people. At all levels, people didn't seem to take any pride in their work. It was a country that seemed very tired to me. It definitely needed to reinvent itself.
Food in England then was an irrelevance. People ate only to survive. To spend pounds 50 on a meal was considered immoral. I found it very hard. I even started to have a problem with my teeth, as I was not used to tinned food. But things have changed here immeasurably in the past decade. England now has some of the finest restaurants in the world, even outside London. One of my favourite places is Cheltenham, where I opened a restaurant last year. It is so elegant and I continually expect to see ladies in horse-drawn carriages riding through the streets.
Sometimes I get stopped by passport control and they ask me for cooking tips. When travelling, I regularly get stopped by people who have been to my restaurant, Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons. Once I was getting on to a plane and one of the cabin crew collecting tickets wanted the recipe for the lemon souffle that he had eaten there. So there we were, a queue forming behind us, and me explaining my lemon souffle for 10 minutes. I can get very excited about that particular recipe.
Borocay Island, in the Philippines, is one of the most exotic places I've visited in terms of the landscape - flying fish, fruit-bats, amazing sunsets and little boats - but certainly not for the food. At that time, the island was completely undeveloped. The food could have been good as there was amazing, fresh produce, but the water was polluted and we got very bad food poisoning. Even the monkeys got it. In the end, we had to be flown to a hospital on the mainland in a little plane, and then arrived back home with all sorts of illnesses. It took me about three weeks to recover.
Thailand is one of my favourite exotic destinations for food. I stayed at a place called Hua Hin. The food was stunning and so nutritionally well-balanced. As usual, I ended up in the kitchen. (I am a very bad travel/dinner companion in that respect.) The cooking was so fast and fresh.
There is a common misconception that Japanese food is simply raw fish but, for example, kaiseki-ryori cooking involves hours of preparation. The most sophisticated place I have ever stayed was an old-fashioned inn in Kyoto. We had about 25 courses, all served on divine china by a geisha on her knees, s'il vous plait. I found it all far too subservient, especially being an ex-waiter. On the whole, the Japanese don't like to give away too much information so I didn't make it into the kitchen there.
I still believe that France has the best food in the world but I also love eating in Italy. Mediterranean food is all about life - about olive oil, basil, fat ripe tomatoes and, of course, the vino, which makes the meal a complete experience for me.
Strangely though, some of the best pasta I ever ate was in the Caribbean. I remember this little restaurant in Anguilla that served the most superb home-made pasta I have ever tasted. It was odd to spend days in the kitchen with the mother of an Anguillan household learning how to make fine pasta.
Chef Raymond Blanc has two Le Petit Blanc brasseries, one in Oxford and one in Cheltenham. He will be opening a new branch in Birmingham this August (tel: 01242 266800).Reuse content