Raymond Blanc: 'These little live eels jump from the bowl and down your throat'

Interview,Hugh Montgomery
Sunday 06 February 2011 01:00 GMT

My earliest food memory... A sumptuous Bûche de Noël, which my mother was carving for Christmas. It's the French Christmas pudding: a biscuit you moisten with vanilla syrup, or Grand Marnier for adults. Then you put cream inside – butter-cream or chestnut-cream or chocolate – roll it and put more butter-cream on the top. I was two or three and I remember thinking it was so beautiful.

Store-cupboard essentials... Ceps [mushroom] powder – it can be added to a stock which tastes a bit insipid. Other essentials: carnaroli rice, pasta, mustard, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and some good rapeseed oil. I also love desiccated mushrooms – anything desiccated is fantastic, as it keeps for ever – and that Bûche de Noël must have had an impact on me because I always have some chestnut purée – sweet or non-sweet, it's one of the things I really love.

Top cookbook... One little cookbook I love is Cooking in 10 Minutes by Edouard de Pomiane: it was incredibly ahead of its time. He was a microbiologist at the Sorbonne, and I love the way he wrote about food: simply, with warmth and humour. Also, the books of Jane Grigson and Constance Spry helped me learn about both food and English – but obviously my English failed miserably!

The kitchen appliance I can't live without... I'm not normally a gadget person but more and more I think a good temperature probe can be a great help when cooking joints of meat. You have no idea what's happening inside, but with a proper probe you can control everything. It's one of the cheapest gadgets, but also one of the most useful.

Culinary tip... When whipping egg whites, add a tiny dash of lemon juice; you can then whip as long as you want to. The lemon juice lowers the pH value and creates a more stable form.

My top table... I love Club Gascon [the Michelin-starred French restaurant in central London]: it's a great exponent of cooking from south-west France, especially if you love foie gras. I also love Zuma [the Japanese restaurant in Knightsbridge]. The food is quite stunning and the idea of having a grill for the carnivores is fantastic. And I'm delighted that Bruno Loubet is back in London [with Bistrot Bruno Loubet] after six or seven years' exile in Australia. He creates wonderful, affordable food.

Desert island dish... Probably escargots with a lot of garlic. I used to hunt them as a child, then cook them with my mum in bouillon, so they bring back a lot of memories. When we eat them in my part of the world, though, we have them not by six or 12 but baked by the hundred.

Dream dining companion... My gorgeous fiancée Natalia. I've had the same dining company for nine years, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

The strangest thing I've eaten... In Japan, I had these little live eels. They brought this beautiful glass water bowl and you could see thousands of these silvery things, no more than 2cm each, moving very fast, and it was put in the middle of the table and they jumped into your bowl. Then you had to swallow them without chewing, as they jumped down your throat. It was really odd, an example of how the Japanese push gastronomy into the perverse.

Pet hates...Malt vinegar. The first time I came to Britain I took a ferry from France and ordered fish and chips, as I thought this is a great British dish that I've never tasted but heard so much about. It came reeking of malt vinegar, which made me cough, and the fish, being fish fingers, was squared-off! That's when I knew I was about to enter a different world.

Chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons has two Michelin stars. He and product designer Robin Levien have teamed up to create a new tableware collection for John Lewis. The Chanterelle range is in stores and at johnlewis.com

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