With his trademark savoir-faire and charm, Blanc is one of the most recognisable and respected chefs in the country. Completely self-taught, his influence on gastronomy has been honoured with both an OBE from Britain and the equivalent of a knighthood from France, and his Oxfordshire restaurant has held two Michelin stars for a hugely impressive 30 years.
Blanc’s career has been a colourful one. Having worked in France, first as a cleaner in a restaurant and then as a waiter, he moved to England to become a waiter at Oxfordshire pub restaurant The Rose Revived. One day, the head chef of the pub was ill and couldn’t come into work so Blanc volunteered to take over the kitchen and thus his career at the other side of the pass began.
A few years later, having married the daughter of the pub owner, Blanc and his wife Jenny launched their own restaurant, opening Les Quat’Saisons in Oxford on the site of a former Greek taverna. The restaurant quickly became known as the best place to eat in Oxford and, in 1979, it won its first of two Michelin stars and the Egon Ronay Guide award for Best Restaurant in England.
In 1983 Blanc relocated to a dilapidated country manor house in Great Milton, just outside Oxford, refurbishing it to create what is now Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons - a quintessential English country house with a French heart. Le Manoir is now regarded as one of the UK’s finest country house hotels and restaurants.
At his time at Le Manoir Blanc has been a long-time champion not only of French food but of seasonal British ingredients. The Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Lavazza, also recognises his work in nurturing future restaurant industry talent and his championing of issues of sustainability.
Accepting the award, Blanc praised the current diversity of the UK’s food scene, as reflected in the 2018 list of top 100 restaurants in the UK. “We have an extraordinary and exciting industry,” he said. “London is a hub of creativity and an extraordinary mix of cultures that creates an amazing, world best gastronomy, which is now exported across the north [of England].”
“It is not London centric anymore, which is exciting. It is exciting to be part of the revolution.”