Weekend: Food and Drink: Blanc Verse; with His Latest Book Hitting the Shelves, Raymond Blanc Talks to Andrew Davies about the Importance of Training Competent Chefs and Why Our Lack of Cooking Skills Is to Blame for a Failing Society
Byline: Andrew Davies
Raymond Blanc, the man many cited as the catalyst that kickstarted Birmingham's booming restaurant scene, is eating an omelette and a salad for lunch when he calls from the kitchen of his restaurant at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.
Washed down with a glass of red wine, naturally.
It's indicative of what lies at the heart of Blanc's philosophy of cuisine.
'Society is all about speed now - people don't have the time, and they are eating cans of baked beans,' says Blanc. 'But this is just a simple omelette: throw in whatever you like - maybe tomatoes, whatever you have, with a simple salad, and a glass of wine. You can cook this in seven minutes, whether it costs 50p or pounds 3.'
This is Blanc back to basics. Forget complicated dishes with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. Forget fusion and Pacific rim: the British people need to be educated in the simple things in life, says the man from Burgundy who has probably had more influence on modern British cooking than any other single Frenchman.
Needless to say, he's just released a book to illustrate the point, entitled Foolproof French Cookery. 'The idea came from BBC books, who wanted a book written about French cuisine that included simple and healthy food, food that you get in French homes, and food every Englishman dreams of when he goes to France and looks for that perfect coq-au-vin, that dipping-the-food-in-the-wine,' says Blanc.
'The book is about simple, rustic whole food that my mum used to make - 90 per cent of the recipes are from my mother.
'To me, the kitchen was the most important part of the house. You might think, as English people, it would be the bedroom, but the hearth was the focus - the simple act of creating food and giving it to the family.
'And the family would sit down and take part in the food, talk and love each other alongside the act of eating together. It is why French society is healthier: we sit down as a family and eat simple food.
'In England, family life is in such trouble because people never cook a meal and sit down to eat as a family. Both parents are working, both are stressed, and they never have time to cook and eat with the kids, who are fed with processed food from the freezer which is a multi-billion-pound industry.
'Consumers have been completely manipulated by the supermarkets - effectively, food comes from intensive farming with loads of chemicals, which whitens food and makes everything pale and boring.
'Every food has suffered from modern production - it's more efficient, there's fast food - and the whole environment has changed. But France, Italy and Spain are still really leading a fight against globalisation and Americanisation.
'The French culture has suffered too. If a mum cannot take the time once or twice a week to cook a good meal then there's no time to reflect and communicate with each other.'
Three things have killed food in recent years, in Blanc's eyes: food production, with its increasingly intensive farming, globalisation and 'Frankenstein foods', the fact that society has 'forgotten the craft element' of food and is embracing cheap food, and our attitude towards eating - that spending money on good food and enjoying it is something about which we should be proud rather than ashamed.
But it's not all doom and gloom in this country, says Blanc.
'There is a growing awareness about food - the British people want to know more about the food they are eating. It is marvellous to see my British friends standing up to Monsieur Blair against GM foods.
'Two things have happened to the British public in the last ten years: sex and food. Suddenly it's like giving a kid two new toys and he's very excited with these toys.
'For years, sex and food were con-sidered improper and inappropriate. …