When Raymond Blanc was five, he remembers being sent into the garden by his father to tend their vegetable plot.
It was a task he hated at first, as it took him away from playing his beloved football. But by helping to feed his family, Raymond learned the value of growing the food you eat and that the best cooking is seasonal.
It is a lesson that hasn’t served him too badly, with a Michelin-starred restaurant, a national chain of brasseries and a successful book and television career part of brand Blanc.
Raymond’s most recent project has taken him back to his roots – literally and figuratively – by collaborating with the staff at Kew Gardens for Kew on a Plate, a cookbook and television series which aired on BBC2.
He says: ‘The science of Kew was fascinating. We learned about the science of soil and the plants themselves, because there are so many varieties.
‘For example, Kew had more than 500 varieties of strawberry. Some were watery, some were firm, some sweet, some bitter. After trying about 200 I had to stop! But the scientists there used these to make the perfect variety.’
We separate the food we eat from where it comes from, but in fact food connects everythingRaymond Blanc
Raymond filmed the show in one of the greenhouses – thirsty work in the height of summer.
‘That was so funny for me, who does that? We also had to stop filming every couple of minutes while planes passed by. It was hard but fun.’
The Kew on a Plate book is organised not by recipe but by ingredient – and it is this focus on produce which Raymond wants to see more of nationally.
‘Our country is still number one for rates of obesity, heart disease and malnutrition, and it’s because we have a very odd relationship with food. We separate the food we eat from where it comes from, but in fact food connects everything. If you eat food grown close to home, you help your local farmer keep his farm. And if you have a local farm, you’ll keep your local village. You won’t create so much pollution, so you won’t need someone to clean it up. As consumers we are becoming more responsible, but people need to ask where their food comes from.’
Or why not go one better and grow your own food. Raymond’s advice? ‘Choose a soil which is not full of clay or iron. That’s not a good idea. Try not to be too ambitious at first – grow a couple of things – and ask someone who knows their stuff for advice!’