The Relais & Châteaux Chefs Turn Toward Sustainable Seafood
Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in the UK
Raymond Blanc, Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef, created Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, near Oxford, England. Having retained two Michelin stars for 26 years, the excellence, standards, ideals and the culture that Raymond installed still remain our foundations today. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is consistently at the forefront of modern gastronomy, Gary Jones is the Executive Head Chef and Benoit Blin the Chef Patissier.
1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Saône, near Besançon in the Franche-Comté region of France. I’m self- taught man. I came to the UK in 1972 and got started as a cook in 1976, when I was 27. I was working as a server at a restaurant called The Rose Revived located near Witney, about 20 km west of Oxford. One day, the chef was out sick and I had to replace him in the kitchen. Everyone really liked what I made. Six months later, I opened my first restaurant, Les Quat’Saisons, in Oxford. Eight years after that, I opened Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I chose this name because the seasons characterize my cuisine: they define the quality, origin and authenticity of the products used.
I have been living in the UK for over 35 years now, and this has had a big influence in my cuisine. In France, foreign cuisines are kept completely separate, but in the UK it’s different – here, cuisine is much more of a fusion, with the integration of elements from the cuisines of other lands.
Having lived in the UK for many years, I have been influenced by its multi-culture. It has enriched me. When I take tastes and textures from elsewhere, I use them very selectively to enrich my cuisine and not to confuse it.
2) What seafood do you serve? Do you have any favorites? Are there any particularly popular items?
Each species has its own strong points – its own special flavor and texture. In terms of taste, I would say I’m partial to lobster, scallops and sea bass. Our guests tend to always ask for sole, turbot and cod.
Right now we are serving line-caught sea bass from Cornwall. Each fish is tagged, which means a label is attached to the gill to inform the buyer or consumer of the origin and fishing technique used. We also use MSC-certified sole1 from Hastings that are caught using a seine or trammel net. The scallops come from Scotland, are hand-dived and always measure at least 12 cm. Our turbot are always at least 40 cm, are caught using nets and come from Cornwall, as do our line-caught mackerel. This season we are also using lobster and pollock, which both come from Cornwall, as well as megrim and spider crab. We also have Atlantic john dory and halibut raised on the Isle of Gigha. We know where our fish comes from and how it is caught. Specific guidelines are adhered to ensuring that my chefs share a responsibility to sustainable methods. We work closely with all sustainable organization, particularly MSC to ensure we are full informed.
Most recently haddock is going through the MSC process and will soon be on Le Manoir menu.
3) Are there any species that you no longer use?
Yes. The MSC has supplied us with a great deal of information. We stopped using Atlantic cod two or three years ago and eel three years ago. Studies are currently underway in Cornwall to evaluate the state of the turbot. I will make my decision regarding that species once the results have come in.
4) How do you work with your suppliers?
I set myself extremely strict criteria for the species I choose, which means that I have come to know everything about the fish I buy. This has taken me over 10 years. I work with both the Marine Conservation Society and Sustain2.
For example, our line-caught sea bass must never be smaller than 22 cm. I always know which boat fished it and at what time. I can answer any question my guests may have about the fish they’re eating.
This implies a certain level of diligence, but all of my staff has reacted very positively. I have them meet the fishermen so that they understand how the entire chain functions and to help them continue to make progress in this sense.
We work directly with the fishermen in Cornwall and Scotland, since that’s where most of our fish come from. We have a small network of fishermen working for us. We also work with suppliers that we have selected for their firm commitment to sustainable seafood sourcing. I am the only 2 Michelin starred chef to be MSC certified in the UK.
5) Do chefs have a role to play protecting seafood resources? Do you think they feel affected by this issue?
Chefs have an extremely important responsibility in terms of protecting resources. In the past, the role of a chef was limited to buying, producing, cooking and selling. But for me, it must go much further. To protect the oceans and their resources, we have to change our practices. We have to pass the message on to the younger generations and create strong partnerships with fishermen and suppliers. We must educate young chefs and have them meet the professionals. It’s the only way we can save the oceans. Once you realize what’s at stake, you become responsible. If we don’t change things now, we’ll soon be serving only seaweed to our guests because there will no longer be any fish.
Professionals are not sufficiently aware of their roles and responsibilities in terms of resource conservation. Only two years ago, most chefs in England took no interest at all in this issue. For them it was just something that would slow them down. They saw it as a constraint. But now this is changing. Chefs, the ones who should have been leading this movement all along, are now beginning to take action. The recession has also made it possible to promote lesser-known, under-utilized species. Cooks need to tap into their expertise to find creative solutions for this. And everyone should feel involved: chefs, owners and employees alike.
6) How did we come to be in this situation, in your view?
We have overfished our oceans. Fishing has become industrialized. And we are all responsible. We must take a new look at everything. We must get back in touch with our responsibilities. Our governments must work together; we need to create reserves where fishing is not allowed, stop the massacres and rethink our fishing methods. In five hours, for example, a big trawler can suck up several tons of fish! We must fish more responsibly, for example refraining from fishing when fish are spawning. When we are purchasing fish, we are not looking for the cheaper options; our focus is on knowing exactly where the fish has come from and how it is farmed. Therefore our budgets need to allow for higher food costs.
7) What do you see as possible solutions?
There are more and more initiatives headed in the right direction: for example, fishermen in Scotland have agreed upon implementing voluntary real-time closures. Customers usually tend to look for only a few species of fish: sole, turbot and cod. We need to educate our customers, to explain that they cannot have everything all the time, and the reasons for this. We must open up a dialogue between professionals and customers. If we take the time to communicate, this will be very effective because people will come to understand the situation better and better. The media is playing a big role in opening up discussion and raising awareness of the issue.
8) What does the commitment made by Relais & Châteaux mean to you?
Relais & Châteaux has over 400 hotels and restaurants worldwide. As representatives of prestigious establishments, R&C members must establish strong ethics and implement rules to be complied with. From a culinary point of view, we must put our focus on developing rules for our cuisine; for fish in particular, we need strong, clear and determined rules that chefs can use to make the right choices.
Our sector can no longer afford to overlook this. We must be the first to react. Relais & Châteaux is the first association to establish this type of commitment, with the goal of increasing the responsibility of all participants, whether professionals or consumers.
I am very pleased to take part in this commitment. It’s a big step forward, and I hope that many other chefs and associations will follow our example.
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD, England
Tel. +44 (0)1844 278881 Fax +44 (0)1844 278847
MSC: The Marine Stewardship Council is a non-governmental organization that has created a label identifying seafood produced by sustainable fishing practices, with a view to providing a solution to overfishing.
The Marine Conservation Society is a British public-interest organization dedicated to the preservation of our oceans, their coasts and their wildlife; Sustain promotes food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity.
About Relais & Châteaux:
Relais & Châteaux is an exclusive collection of nearly 500 of the finest, charming hotels and gourmet restaurants in 60 countries.
Established in France in 1954, the Association’s mission is to spread its unique art de vivre across the globe by selecting outstanding properties with a truly unique character.
Furthermore, Relais & Châteaux is also a family of hoteliers and Grands Chefs from all over the world who share a passion for and a personal commitment to ensuring their guests are privy to moments of exceptional harmony, an unforgettable celebration of the senses.
From the vineyards in Napa valley to the beaches in Bali, from the olive trees in Provence to the lodges in South Africa, Relais & Châteaux offers all the stops on the finest route for discovering each special place and country. The Relais & Châteaux signature reflects this ambition: “ALL AROUND THE WORLD, UNIQUE IN THE WORLD”.
Posted in February 2011
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