MONDAY21 NOVEMBER 2011 • MAMAN & PAPA BLANC'S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS
Celebrating my parents' 89th and 90th Birthdays
With my two wonderful sons, Sebastien and Olivier
Last weekend I was travelling from London to France in the good company of my sons, Sebastien, Olivier and Mark Peregrine who was my first apprentice at Les Quat’Saisons, way back in 1978. He is now the director of The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir and I wanted to show him a bit of French “art et joie de vivre”. We brought with us an impressive picnic, lovingly prepared by the one and only, the wonderful Adam.
Mark and the boys enjoying Adam's picnic
The feast started wonderfully well and was a nice appetiser for what was to come.
On Remembrance day itself – 11.11.11 – I had one of the best experiences it is possible for a human being to have: I took part in celebrating the 89th birthday of my mother, and my father’s 90th. It is extraordinary, but they were born on the same day, exactly a year apart, 11.11.22 and 11.11.21. And here we were, at a small local restaurant, about 40 family members, children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, toasting not only their long lives, but also their relatively good health and their amazingly long, enduringly loving marriage.
Maman & Papa Blanc on their wedding day
For any person such a celebration is one of the happiest milestones the human mind can conceive, but for me it is event more exceptional, for I can say – boast – that it is from Maman and Papa Blanc that I get my deepest feelings, my ethical and most important values. To see my mother in her kitchen, even today, is like looking into the eye of the tornado, into the energetic vortex of the whirlpool, as she moves like greased lightning from worktop to stovetop, from kitchen table to dining table. Both my sons have named her “Mother Theresa on Speed”. She is unstoppable – until everybody is served; and then she sits down and proves she also knows how to enjoy herself.
Mark has a large helping of Maman Blanc's Iles Flottantes!
There’s no need to ask where I get my own compulsive energy from – see Maman Blanc just once and it’s absolutely clear. She also taught me that you shall waste not want not, which I apply scrupulously in my kitchen every day. She also taught me that the preparation and serving of food is an act of love. She is the very heart of my own philosophy.
Papa Blanc's Medals from WWII
And my father? In addition to all the gardening skills, he taught me respect and hard work. My father’s scrupulous attention to detail has taught me the paramount importance of getting the basic things right – and this is as true in the generalities of life as it is in the kitchen and dining room. In my own and my siblings’ estimation, our father stands for devotion to craft, for learning skills, for taking pride in good workmanship.
What an evening it was. We feasted – of course – we are French. We danced until 4 in the morning. And we toasted many a time, we recited poetry and had many small speeches for both of them – and our own happiness. After all, how many people have the huge privilege of being present at such a birthday party?
That was a perfect day!
PS Mark came back extremely enriched from this cultural exchange – three kg fatter but with a huge smile on his face. He even suggested “wouldn’t it be great to spend half the time in England and half in France”. I agree with you Mark.
Update: Mark has written a little piece about his three days with La Famille Blanc, which I have copied here: thank you Mark:
THREE DAYS IN PARADISE
I have just spent three amazing days with RB, his two sons, Olivier and Sebastien, in his home town of Besançon, to celebrate his mother's 89th and his father's 90th birthdays. What I understood from the moment I arrived was how important that beginning was for RB. As a child learning to live off the land as you went through the seasons; thus understanding how things taste better, and then to chopping and storing wood for the winter, to keep the house warm. They were an integral part of growing up. Today most of us take these things for granted.
It was lovely to see the restaurant in Besançon which inspired RB to become a chef, "the colours and spectacle that were on show" - what a lovely way to describe it.
The stories of mushroom hunting and fishing, both of which I can relate to, having lived in France.
I think, above all, it was the passion he showed, as he does in his work, that made me realise the importance of it all.
And finally, his mother and father: what amazing people they are. The food his mother cooked was delicious: from a simple but full flavoured vegetable soup to my favourite pudding, Floating Islands. She is simply incredible but yet so adorable.
I can't wait to return and explore the region further. For me, these were "three days in paradise".
PS Please tell me what you think of my blogs and my website: I want to hear from you!
Raymond Blanc's new book, Kitchen Secrets, featuring recipes from Kitchen Secrets Series 1 & 2 and many more, was published by Bloomsbury on 14 February and is available to buy online from Amazon, from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Brasserie Blanc, Maison Blanc, and from online and retail bookstores.
Follow Raymond Blanc on Twitter
Contact Raymond via the Contact page of the website