Star Q&A: Raymond Blanc

Round & About


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

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.

Random Acts of Kindness day

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Do something nice for someone today and help make the world a better place – simple!

It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day today (17th February) and whether you choose to donate your unwanted clothing, pay someone’s bus fare or just compliment a random person, do something kind for your fellow man or woman.

One Reading-based organisation is taking that a step further and holding Acts of Kindness Month in March following on from the success of last year’s successful inaugural event.

The John Sykes Foundation was established in 2014 with the aim of helping to transform the lives of people in and around Reading and it honours members of the community for their extraordinary kindness and selflessness.

This year, they want more people to share their experiences and nominate somebody brilliant, whether it be a single heroic act, anybody who consistently works selflessly for others, or someone who has been having a tough time recently.

Last year’s awards included Jason Thrower, a young man who goes above and beyond to help care for his younger brother who has Smith-Magenis Syndrome, ASD, ODD, and anxiety disorder. Jason was presented with a pair of tickets to the West End Show, School of Rock.

Margaret Horne from Tilehurst was nominated by her friend for the kindness she shows every day and was delighted to receive her bouquet of flowers.

A class of students and staff from the Tarrant Class of Brookfelds SEN School were nominated by a colleague, who told how the class is staffed by the most amazing ladies who care for the children, but unfortunately do not get out as much as other classes at the school. The eight staff were each presented with a gift box from Lush and the children enjoyed a visit from therapy dog Bali, who has now become a regular monthly visitor to the children.

Reading’s own Danyl Johnson presented those awards and will make the presentations this year as well. He said: “Without these people making a difference, a lot of people who need help wouldn’t be the same without them.

Even better when they think they don’t deserve it, which makes them deserve it even more.”

Trustee of the John Sykes Foundation, Annabelle Sykes, said it was wonderful to see so many happy faces last year and added: “We hope that the Act of Kindness awards inspire others to smile, love and do what they can for others.”

If you know someone who deserves a treat for their kindness, please send an email to nominate them. Be sure to give us their details, a contact number for yourself, why your nominee deserves this recognition, and how you would like to say thank you. This could simply be a bouquet of flowers, a spa treatment, or an outing such as a theatre trip or afternoon tea.

Spread the kindness

Please email with the subject heading Act of Kindness.

Let’s make March a little brighter! 

Forging past the food fads

Round & About


We are constantly bombarded by information on nutrition and lifestyle and frankly much of it is ‘nutrib******s’ with little or no evidence base. Here are a few simple thoughts that I hope might help you navigate that mass of information.

  1. Nutrition is extremely individual
  2. Healthy eating does not have to be complicated
  3. Socio-economic factors have a massive influence on health outcomes
  4. The words we use to talk about nutrition and health matter – avoid stigmatising language
  5. It’s important to think about the bigger picture of health – not just nutrition
  6. Sleep has a huge impact on health and nutrition-related outcomes
  7. Food is so much more than the sum of it’s parts, eating for pleasure is key
  8. Self-compassion is vital for improving relationship with food
  9. No food needs to be avoided unless it is poisonous or you are allergic to it
  10. Most answers about nutrition start with “It depends on…”
  11. There is much more to sustainable eating than plant-based diets
  12. It is rarely helpful to comment on what others are eating
  13. Context matters in all areas of nutrition
  14. A plant-based diet doesn’t need to be a plant-only diet
  15. The complexity of nutrition is often under-estimated
  16. The appeal to nature fallacy is very common with nutritional beliefs
  17. Low-carb diets continually resurface under many different disguises!
  18. Food beliefs are often deep-rooted, tribal and linked with sense of self
  19. No nutrition messages should be black and white
  20. Sometimes all you should do is laugh at the latest ridiculous fad diet
  21. Focusing on health is much more important than just weight
  22. A flexible approach to healthy eating is vital
  23. Nutritional science contains many fascinating shades of grey
  24. Food should complement our life, rather than dominate it
  25. Variety is an important part of a satisfying and nutritious diet

More info

Abi Barclay-Watt is a registered associate nutritionist in Blewbury. Visit

Winter aches & pains?

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Pharmacist Kevin Leivers from The Naked Pharmacy explains how to find effective natural relief for joint and muscle inflammation this winter

As the temperature drops both athletes and elderly people alike notice their muscles and joints ache more and are slower to recover from injury.

There are a number of great natural remedies for these problems at The Naked Pharmacy. Two stand-out herbal products that can be applied regularly to aching muscles and joints are Arnica Massage Balm and Copper Ointment. Both are effective for reducing rheumatic pain in addition to improving circulation.

We also recommend supplementing your diet with high-strength tumeric capsules. This is a proven, natural and low-risk solution for a number of conditions including arthritis and sporting injuries. The therapeutic benefits of turmeric are produced by a class of compounds in turmeric called curcuminoids.

For the turmeric to be effective it must contain the correct strength; a minimum of 360mg curcuminoids in each capsule. Secondly, it needs to be formulated to enable the curcuminoid active compounds to be absorbed well in the gut.

On its own, only a small amount of the curcuminoids in turmeric are absorbed into the blood. Adding piperine (black pepper) resolves this issue. When piperine is mixed with turmeric, the total curcuminoid absorption increases significantly.

A turmeric extract that contains the highest strength of curcuminoids will be the most effective compared with extracts containing only curcumin.

For more advice visit The Naked Pharmacy or to speak to a pharmacist  call 01483 685630.

How toxic is your world?

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We live in a world that is literally awash with a concoction of untested chemicals. They are in soaps, detergents, cleaning products, furniture, cars, trains, planes, till receipts, plastics, paints, carpets, clothes, cosmetics, drinking water and food… and this is not an exhaustive list! Not only have about 80,000 chemicals been released into the environment since 1945, the majority have never been fully tested. Studies suggest you do not have to be exposed to a high dose to experience harmful effects. We are only now just beginning to see the results of this “experiment”…

Some have been classified as “hormone disruptors”, meaning they interfere with the intricate balance of hormones in humans and wildlife, potentially leading to developmental and reproductive problems. There is concern over the rising number of hormone-related disorders in both humans and wildlife and the results of recent scientific research include thyroid disease, hormonally driven cancers, early puberty, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The United Nations and the World Health Organisation have jointly published a report calling for more research to understand the link. It is unfortunately now impossible to escape being exposed to some extent to toxins, but you can dramatically reduce the total toxic load you are under, by making sensible lifestyle choices when it comes to what you eat, drink, wear and use. For example avoid consuming plastic bottled water (especially carbonated), filter your drinking and bathing water, eat organic foods, buy environmentally friendly/or make your own household detergents/dishwashing/cleaning and laundry products, stop using a fabric conditioner, think carefully about the use of garden chemicals/lawn treatments, use natural soaps/shampoos and reduce the use of personal care products and cosmetics/seek out natural alternatives. Consuming a nutrient-dense diet as well as directly supporting optimal liver and gut health are also key.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit

Stomach acid is crucial for health

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Stomach acid is not a design flaw of the body (which is often how it is portrayed), but is, in fact, crucial for optimal health and wellbeing. Without appropriate levels of stomach acid, the whole digestive process starts off on the wrong foot. Proteins need to be broken down into their component parts (amino acids) for efficient absorption further down the digestive tract and stomach acid is essential for this process to happen efficiently. The efficient absorption of vitamin B12 and minerals is also dependent on sufficient levels of stomach acid. B12 is crucial for energy production, mental/nerve function and cardio-vascular health. Typical symptoms that might suggest less than optimal levels of stomach acid include bloating, cramping, gas/belching shortly after a meal, reflux/heartburn, parasitic and yeast infections, feeling tired after a meal, problems digesting animal protein, nausea, bad breath, skin problems, undigested food in stools, increased susceptibility to food poisoning, rectal itching, IBS, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, food sensitivities and weak fingernails. If you suspect that you might have suboptimal levels of stomach acid, the following actions may well help: consume ginger and sauerkraut, avoid drinking large amounts of fluid just before and after eating a meal, eat smaller meals, consume the largest meal of the day when you are the least stressed, chew your food thoroughly, sit down and take your time to eat and consider taking a ‘food state’ multi vitamin and mineral supplement, using digestive bitters (natural stomach acid stimulants) and the use of very specific stomach acid supplementation. Please note that if you are taking any medications or have any significant health concerns, it is essential that you work with a suitably qualified health practitioner/doctor before taking any supplementation. Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit

Is a vegan diet healthy?

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Society considers a vegan diet a “healthy” lifestyle choice (both for humans and the environment). But is it? Some of the most severe and chronic health conditions I see are often connected to current or past veganism.

The science is convincing; vegans are far more likely to present with a number of key nutritional deficiencies compared to omnivores, particularly B12, omega 3 essential fats, choline and bioavailable forms of calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and D. Our cells require optimal nutrient levels to function. When cells malfunction, we develop disease.

Our digestive system closely resembles other predatory animals’ and is designed to break down animal protein with stomach acid. Herbivores do not produce stomach acid. Plants are difficult to break down, which is why herbivores have a special stomach (a rumen) containing significant quantities of bacteria whose sole purpose is to release nutrients. If you watch a cow eating, you’ll notice grass is regurgitated multiple times – “chewing the cud”. The human digestive system has very few bacteria in the stomach (stomach acid is very hostile to gut bacteria), with the vast majority residing in our version of a rumen, the colon (which is as far away from the stomach as possible) and located after the small intestine, the key part of the digestive system that absorbs nutrients (in herbivores the rumen is before the small intestine). We are designed to absorb the vast majority of our nutrients from foods broken down in the upper digestive systems (animal proteins/fats), with indigestible plant matter passed to the colon, where the gut bacteria get to work and produce a raft of essential metabolic by-products that we have discussed and confer considerable health benefits.

I’m not advocating we eat lots of animal protein; it should be the “garnish” with veg centre stage! I’m pointing out that abstaining from all animal protein is not “healthy”. A vegan diet is essentially a form of fasting.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit

Gluten-related disorders

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If you are presenting with any chronic health or wellbeing conditions that cannot be explained, then a professional assessment should be advised for the following disorders.

Gluten-related disorders (GRDs) are fundamentally caused by the inability of the body to properly digest gluten (the storage protein in grains), typically driven by imbalances in the bacterial species of the gut in combination with genetic predisposition. If identified, eliminate gluten from a diet permanently in order to repair the damage.

Coeliac disease (CD) is the autoimmune variant of GRDs where the immune system attacks and destroys the small intestine reducing the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. CD can be diagnosed using a combination of blood, genetic and physical assessments.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are not an auto-immune disease, but is no less serious. This evidence is based upon results of a large study that reviewed 351,000 intestinal biopsies clearly showing that there was not only just as much inflammation detected with NCGS as with CD, but also that the increased risk of early mortality was 72% with NCGS compared to 39% with CD.

There is also a “new kid on the block” called non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), where gluten is not necessarily the trigger, but instead significant immune system reactions are being triggered by other components of wheat. You can start to appreciate that both gluten and wheat can have serious implications on individuals that do not have CD but instead NCGS/NCWS.

Simply eliminating wheat or gluten, in your diet, before you have had a professional assessment is not advised.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit