Star Q&A: Raymond Blanc

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Liz Nicholls asks star chef Raymond Blanc about feeding the soul in isolation, finding your calling & his surprising favourite foodstuff…

Q. Many of us parents have been home schooling, or stressing about home schooling over the last few months… Being self-taught, do you have any encouraging words about how youngsters can find their calling, school or no school? “The key is to find your passion and follow it. I am self-taught in the sense that I didn’t ‘study’ my craft but I did ‘learn’ my craft from the best. This includes my maman who taught me so much as a child about taking the best local, seasonal ingredients and turning them into wonderful, hearty, family dishes. I learnt from great chefs who I worked under – I paid attention, I practised, I pushed forward and made my own way into a world that inspired me so much.”

Q. Your childhood sounds idyllic. What’s one thing parents can do to nurture their children’s love of food? “There is nothing that will inspire children more or make them want to try new tastes and textures than to have been part of the creative process of preparing and cooking the dishes. To this day certain dishes like a simple and delicious apple tart evoke such strong and joyous childhood memories of being in the French country kitchen, cooking with my mother.”

Q. Is there anything you don’t eat or drink? “I do all I can to avoid processed food. I once bought a processed loaf and could not believe that after two weeks there was no mould on it! In France, every little village has a boulangerie and the French buy fresh bread sometimes three times a day. Today there are a wealth of wonderful artisan food producers in the UK and they must be supported.”

Q. What’s the one food or drink that you just couldn’t do without? “Not a food I can’t do without but one I have only recently discovered – brown sauce! Yes, who would imagine a Frenchman loving the humble brown sauce. I had been Living in England for almost 40 years when one day a friend offered me a bacon butty with brown sauce. I can tell you now, it was a revelation. I cannot believe I waited so long!

Q. What’s the most useful kitchen gadget or kit no kitchen should be without? “I think most chefs would agree when I say a great set of kitchen knives. Having the correct sharp knife for each and every task in the kitchen will make everything so much easier and so much more enjoyable. Good knives are easy to handle, they are well balanced and, looked after properly, can last you a lifetime.. Another piece of kit I love is my Kenwood Chef kitchen mixer. I’ve used these machines for over 30 years, in my kitchens and cookery school, and the precision and durability is fantastic.”

Q. We’re supporting our hospitality heroes – how important it is this industry? And do you have any words of solidarity for your fellow hospitality heroes? “The UK hospitality industry employs over 3 million people, many of them just starting out on the career ladder – young, eager and full of high hopes and expectation. For them, and for the whole of the hospitality sector I say try and stay strong. It has been such a hard year but we are all in this together and we know that once this if over our restaurants, pubs, hotels will be the first places people will want to visit to reclaim some normality and joy. We live to deliver those special moments of magic and will be back to doing what we do best very soon.”

Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out as a chef? “One route is via apprenticeships. There are very many excellent apprenticeships that will give you a superb introduction to commercial kitchens. We run them at both Le Manoir and at Brasserie Blanc and can take someone with basic skills, give them the best training they could hope for and set them up for a successful career with no limits. Some of the best known chefs in the UK started this way, including Michael Caines and Ollie Dabbous who were both apprentices at my Le Manor!”

Q. How have you coped throughout the last year & what have been your go-to sanity savers? “I was at home, and isolated from most of my family – as well as my team of chefs at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Brasserie Blanc. My way of keeping sane was to cook and cook! I chose simple dishes that evoked happy memories and provided the connection to those who I missed so much. I used ingredients that were easily-available and needed only basic kitchen equipment and out of this came the inspiration for my new television series and book Simply Raymond.”

Q. Who would be your five dream dinner party guests, living or dead, real or fictional? “Other than friends or family, of course, what could be better, I think it would be amazing to have one big table with all the great chefs I have been lucky enough to train over the years. What great things they could teach me now.”

Q. Like me, you eat regularly at Brasserie Blanc… What are your favourite dishes on the menu? “Yes, I live very close to our Brasserie Blanc in Oxford so I am in there at least once a week. I help to create the seasonally changing menu with our Executive Chef Clive Fretwell who learned his craft under me at Le Manoir – we have worked together for over 30 years now – amazing! I know all of the dishes very well, every season I have a new favourite but some dishes are classics and stay on the menu throughout, including our very special cheese soufflé. I enjoy this as a starter but also on its own for a light lunch – it is so incredibly light in texture that you can almost imagine it is calorie-free!”

Q. What other exciting plans do you have on the horizon? “I currently have the new television series Simply Raymond Blanc running on ITV on Saturdays mornings. This will be repeated over the summer on weekday evenings so if you have missed any of them don’t worry! My new recipe book is also coming out any day now – Simply Raymond. Like the television series the book is a collection of my favourite, simple home-cooked recipes – nothing fussy or over-complicated. These dishes are the ones that mean the most to me; the ones that connect me to my dearest family and friends.”

Star Q&A: Andy Triggs Hodge

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Three times Olympic rowing gold medallist Andy Triggs Hodge started rowing because he thought it would be fun, now he is sharing that sense of fun through Race The Thames 2021, we chatted to him about his career, the importance of sport and the event taking place in March

How did you get involved in rowing in the first place and why, what was it that attracted you to it?

I started rowing at Staffordshire Uni – not a typical rowing uni – because a friend suggested it would be fun. I had no idea what that innocent moment would lead to. From there I found something that sparked my imagination, passion and vitality in life as a whole, and I found myself getting better grades, improving my outlook in life, everything seemed to get better when I took up the oar. It really does conform to the saying, ‘the more you put in the more you’ll get out’.

Were you sporty generally?

I was always last to be picked for school sports, football, running, etc. I used to play a bit of rugby in the second row, but I never scored a try or flourished. I challenge everyone who thinks themselves as unathletic, I believe they just haven’t found ‘their’ sport. It’s why giving young people a chance to try all forms of sport through school is key to their development as well-rounded individuals. Sport plays such a big part in life, everyone will be good at one sport, they just have to find it. This also applies to adults.

Lewis Hamilton said winning the seventh F1 world title was beyond his wildest dreams, but that he had ‘secretly dreamt as high as this’, when you got into rowing was that your ‘secret dream’ to get to the top, winning Olympic and World titles?

I started rowing because I enjoyed it, and I’m lucky enough to say that I finished rowing enjoying it. Winning was always and only a by product of the elements I held dearest – self-improvement; enjoyment and being with friends in a common goal, the sacrifice; achieving one’s potential in anything is directly proportional to the sacrifices made.

Do you miss that competitiveness now you’ve retired or are you someone who has to win at everything you do?

Winning has never been a driver for me, since I retired, I replaced my passion to achieve something (which only started when I found rowing) with two things: First, trying to be a good husband, to make up for the time my wife had to put me first despite the hardships in her life, and to my sons who saw a dad who was reduced to the knackered shell of a man each day as I returned from a training programme designed to keep the human body on the red line seven days a week. Secondly, to find a way to create something for the sport I love. Rowing needs new avenues and opportunities as the sport risks becoming obsolete. Now my focus is on Race the Thames – an event for London Youth Rowing. I’m very excited and can’t wait to see how it lands in March!

Tell us about Race the Thames 2021, how can people get involved?

The event is trying to be as open and inclusive as possible, primarily an indoor rowing event, but you can also contribute to the challenge on any indoor machine. There are two challenges for the teams of eight (male, female or mixed) to choose from; the Race the Tidal Thames, 72km completed in a week or a day, and the Race the River Thames, 342km completed in a week. The ‘field of play’ is an amazing online map that we’re going to bring to life in an exciting way. We’re looking for teams of rowers and non rowers alike: friends, families and colleagues, schools and places of work, across gyms, home machines, anywhere people can access a machine, and any time in the week of 19th to 26th March.

And it’s in aid of London Youth Rowing, what’s that all about and who does it help?

Teams choose their own charity to support, as well as LYR with proceeds split 50:50 – I’m really proud to be able to support many charities through this event. LYR supports young people from backgrounds and communities that would make it very difficult for them to find rowing. I had a comfortable up bringing and I discovered rowing through luck and my ‘privilege’, and it still had such an impact on me it’s hard to comprehend. So many young people who are trapped in the hardest walks of life won’t have that chance without LYR, and knowing the benefits it could have on those individuals, not necessarily to achieve Olympic success, but simply to improvements to life by just participating like I had at uni, is motivation enough for me to live through LYR.

The LYR website says one of the aims is to ‘help young people recover their physical and mental health in 2021’ – with the events of 2020 just how important is this for everyone and how can exercise play its part in this?

Sport is so important at many levels, lockdown has decreased sport across the board. Rebuilding that is essential to getting back on track to increase activity in young people and adults alike, but also to recover our sense of wellness and vitality in our communities. I hope Race the Thames is the motivation to our participants to keep our spirits up and the inspiration to those who LYR help to keep striving and pushing forward.

To find out more and get involved visit www.londonyouthrowing.com/event/racethethames2021

Unique moment of time

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Professor Stephen Hawking had a fascinating relationship with time and this year Bremont are marking that and honouring the eminent scientist with the launch of its Bremont Hawking watch collection.

The brand has worked with the Hawking family to create something unique and special dedicated to the British scientist whose stud of time enhanced our understanding of the universe and beyond.

The classically styled Bremont Hawking Limited Edition watch features a retrograde seconds hand and grand date and contains four wooden discs inlaid into the back of the watch taken from the desk at which Hawking contemplated the mysteries of the universe.

Only a limited number of watches will be made and all with unique features setting them apart as a truly stunning timepiece.

To complement the men’s watch, Bremont is also releasing a limited edition number of women’s watches, the first it has produced and around the face lies a bezel of diamonds – another first for Bremont.

Bremont co-founder Nick English said of the collection: “Professor Stephen Hawking was arguably one of the most pre-eminent scientists of the last hundred years. We wanted to celebrate this incredible man’s life and his fascinating relationship with time.”

Bremont is an award-winning British company producing beautifully engineered chronometers at their headquarters in Henley.

World Book Day

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Thursday is the annual worldwide celebration of books and reading that is World Book Day. 

The registered charity is on a mission to give every child and young person a book and champions authors, illustrators and books generally. 

This is the 23rd year of World Book Day which promotes a love of books and reading and gives children the opportunity to have a book of their own. Book tokens are sent to schools along with age-ranged World Book Day resource packs full of ideas and activities for book-related fun. 

Children just take their tokens to a bookshop and can use it for one of the new and completely free books or to get £1 off any book or audio book over £2.99.  

Among the £1 books you can choose from this year are Meet Amelia Fang, the tale of a young vampire by Laura Ellen Anderson; Evie in the Jungle by Matt Haig – meet Evie who can hear what animals are thinking; Chris Smith and Greg James’s Kid Normal and the Loudest Library; a murder most unladylike mini mystery The Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens; teen super spy Alex Rider returns in Anthony Horowitz’s Undercover: Four Secret Files and Beth Reekles’s story of young love in The Kissing Booth – Road Trip among others for all ages. 

More info

To find out more visit

Wear Red Day

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Don’t be surprised if you’re seeing red today – many will be as they show their support for Wear Red Day and congenital heart disease.

Whether it’s red socks for a splash of awareness or an all-out crimson costume, wear red for the day and support the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) on Friday, 7th February and help children and adults. 

Your fundraising will help fund ground-breaking new equipment, resources, training and research as well as support for children and their families whenever they need it.

It’s so easy to take part, all you need to do is wear red!

It’s a great opportunity to bring pupils, teachers and school staff together for a brilliant cause and team bonding is guaranteed with #WearRedDay at work, it doesn’t need to take up much time but can bring amazing returns. 

And it needn’t stop at wearing red clothing, why not host a Bake Off! Open a stand and sell delicious treats, red coloured of course! Go on a sponsored walk and get naturally red in the cheeks, dress your pets in red and share the fun with your furry friends or simply guess how many red sweets are in the jar.

CHSF was founded in 1988 and since then, has awarded around £7million in grants to the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit, its patients and their families, as well as funding important research proposals. 

And it’s all thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the public and corporate supporters, and by the amazing efforts of fundraisers. 

More info

To find out more information and how you can get involved and help, visit

Above & beyond

Round & About

Charity

Please join us in supporting the Children’s Air Ambulance whose life-saving helicopters are going green. Anna Phillips tells us more.

Oxford-based Children’s Air Ambulance is the only life-saving service of its kind in the UK. The charity has chosen to locate one of its two brand new, specially equipped, bright green Agusta Westland 169 helicopters here in the heart of Oxfordshire, at Kidlington airport, with the other in Doncaster.

This charity is solely dedicated to providing a specialist emergency medical transfer service which is currently changing the face of paediatric care across the country through the high-speed transfers of critically ill neonates, babies and children. The bespoke helicopters are specially adapted with intensive care equipment and on board BabyPod incubators transferring critically ill babies and children from local general hospitals to specialist paediatric hospitals across the country when they need extra specialist life-saving treatment further from home. When a child is too sick to fly, the Children’s Air Ambulance fly a specialist team of clinicians to them and with flight times commonly over four times faster than transfer by road, time saved is a life saved.

The Children’s Air Ambulance receives no NHS or government funding with its life-saving work being totally reliant upon donations and fundraising activities and events from its diverse range of supporters and private individuals. These currently include support from small companies to large corporates, Charity of the Year nominations, community organisations, sports clubs, nurseries, schools, universities, pubs, hotels, breweries as well as a broad and diverse range of interest groups, clubs and associations.  There are also 21 Children’s Air Ambulance charity shops located across the country including three in Oxfordshire – in Abingdon, Headington and Banbury.

The charity has also launched its very own Green Agenda, working to ensure all of its operations are as sustainable as possible with minimal impact to the environment. Achievements to date include its Re Use programme, successfully diverting over 600 tonnes from landfill, the launch of closed-loop plastic recycling and recently receiving recognition for its Data Wiping and Asset Recovery service at the 2019 Charity Retail Awards winning Best Use of Innovation and Technology.

Some of the ways you can help

  1. Donate :  Either online or by donating unwanted clothes and goods to its shops
  2. Charity of The Year: Nominate The Children’s Air Ambulance as your Charity of the Year
  3. Volunteer: Help to raise both funds and awareness of the charity in your community
  4. Events: Organising and taking part in fundraising events, challenges and activities
  5. Shop: Shop and donate through The Children’s Air Ambulance charity shops

The Children’s Air Ambulance would love to hear from you, your company, organisation or local community group if you would like to know more about its work and some of the patient stories of lives it has saved.

Children's Air Ambulance

For more information or to arrange a talk or visit from a member of the Oxfordshire team please call   0300 3045 999, email airambulanceservice.org.uk or visit