My First Million: Raymond Blanc

Chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc, 59, is the co-proprietor of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxford. He is also involved with the group of Maison Blanc patisseries around the country and co-owns the Brasserie Blanc Group, which has seven outlets.

Tomorrow, he will be making a guest appearance at the Ideal Home Show at Earl’s Court.

Born in Besançon, France, Blanc is entirely self-taught. He started working in England as a waiter at a pub in Witney, taking over when the chef was ill.

In 1977, Blanc and his wife Jenny opened their first restaurant, Les Quat’ Saisons, in Oxford. Maison Blanc followed four years later.

In 1984, he opened Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, and established the Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir in 1991.

His best-selling books include last year’s A Taste of My Life. In 2007, he received an OBE. Blanc, who has been married twice, with two adult sons from his first wife Jenny, lives in Oxford.

Did you think you would get to where you are?

No. I never had the attitude to come and conquer England like Napoleon. I came here as a young man who hated the idea of mediocrity and was looking for his gift, which I found: a passion for cooking. In my 20s, I had no expectations to change the English diet, but in many ways I have contributed to it.

What is the secret of your success?

It is to have first found my passion, then to have brought something that the market wanted. There was a huge demand for better quality bread and cakes in the 1980s. With Maison Blanc, I have brought my French culture into Britain with quality bread instead of factory bread, and amazing patisseries instead of cheap doughnuts. Brasserie Blanc was different. It was creating something affordable but good quality.

Le Manoir is a centre of excellence. For me, excellence is the accumulation of seemingly inconsequential, minor and weightless details, but if you put them together intelligently you create something special. Everything I do here, though, must be commercially viable.

When you realised that you had made your first million were you tempted to slow down?

I started out at 27 and would have been 33 when my business assets were worth £1m, in 1984. Of course, I was not tempted to slow down. I wanted to create a business that would be sustainable beyond my lifetime, because I am so emotionally, aesthetically and intellectually involved with it.

Do you want to carry on until you drop?

I enjoy what I am doing tremendously, and I love food and people. I really don’t see a time when I would stop. I have no definite timetable. It is all about how you feel. If I retired, I would still be working – as a consultant – and writing books, but I am not even considering it now.

What is your basic business philosophy?

Because I am a chef and hotelier, the customer always comes first. And I try to never say no, because I am looking after guests and working with a team. I am in an environment where the guests are everything. You have got to be as close to them as the team you work with. Training is at the very heart of my business. I employ about 700 people.

Have you had time for personal financial planning?

I believe in always taking professional advice. It would be foolish not to. I rely on an adviser for my personal finances which, as you would expect, are tied up with the business. Essentially, the first rule in business is to accept that you cannot be good at everything and control everything. You need to surround yourself with really good people who deserve your trust, then you must learn to delegate.

What was your most prudent investment?

It is my home, a beautiful five-bedroom detached house built in 1920 in the best part of Oxford, and close to the prestigious Dragon School. I bought it three years ago for a seven-figure sum and, if I sold it now, I would certainly make a reasonable profit. It was a thoughtful investment but, strangely, even though I fell in love with the place, it has a badly designed kitchen!

Have you made any pension provision?

I started a pension about 20 years ago, which I regard as a fallback. I still contribute to it, because I’m prepared to wait until the stock market recovers. God will decide when I need to draw on this money. There will be a time when it is appropriate.

Have you taken steps to pass on your wealth?

Yes, I made a will when I first got married, and have continued to update it. I will leave most of my wealth to my family, but I won’t forget charities. I support many and I am particularly involved with three causes: Action against Anger, Seesaw, a charity for the bereaved, and the Lady Taverners.

Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?

At the end of August, I have a two-week break in the South of France. I go to restaurants and sit on the beach, and try to read four books, usually novels. The indulgence is taking the time off my complicated and ever-changing schedules.

Picasso or Art Deco as an investment?

I love 18th century French furniture, sculptures and contemporary art. In 1988, I bought eight oil paintings by Jack Vetriano. As he was an unknown artist then, his pictures went for very low prices. They have now increased in value hugely, as much as 40 times.

What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?

Four years ago, I paid £370 for a bottle of 1981 Ruinard champagne at a restaurant in Rome. It was to celebrate getting engaged to my fiancée, Natalia.

What is your money-saving tip in the recession?

Think before you spend and consume. In the last 15 to 20 years, we have become reckless, grabbing food, goods and energy without asking a question. Now we have an opportunity to buy more responsibly.

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