Can we still use the phrase ‘pot calling the kettle black’ or does that contravene the rules of political correctness? Maybe. I ask because the latest local example of this involves a man called, strangely enough, White, or as most of us know him, Raymond Blanc, celebrity chef.
M Blanc runs the two Michelin Star restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, probably the most expensive restaurant in Oxfordshire.
He is now standing up for the poor and is arguing that the organic movement costs so much only the wealthy can afford their products. “It has shot itself in the foot by creating a movement that has become elitist by being so expensive,” he says.
“Normally my heart is organic. All of Le Manoir is totally organic. The moment I came in, there were no chemicals. But it’s easier on vegetables than it is for fruit. Organic uses lots of copper and sulfates and I don’t like that. It leaves permanent copper residues in the soil which are very undesirable if you’re trying to keep chickens.
“I will abandon my principles and the new Le Manoir orchard won’t be organic, but LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).”
LEAF is a charity which sets voluntary sustainability standards for farmers.
The Soil Association hit back. Peter Melchett, its policy director, pointed out that “Raymond Blanc is out of date. In England hundreds of schools and some hospitals have included some organic food without needing to increase the cost of the meal, and in some cases have even saved money by sourcing locally and seasonally”.
It’s a finely balanced argument, but a bit rich coming from Raymond Blanc running a restaurant where a meal for two could cost over £200.
The last organic purple sprouting I bought from Charles Bennet’s organic farm in Sandy Lane, Tiddington, cost less than £2 and the PYO at Rectory Farm in Stanton St John is very good value.
Of course I wouldn’t know if the food at Le Manoir is very good value for money because I haven’t eaten there. The closest I came was having a cup of coffee… maybe.
I was interviewing Raymond Blanc and arrived in a distinctly un-Le-Manoir-like car with the hole in my exhaust pipe announcing my arrival. The receptionist said M Blanc would be down shortly, but would I like to wait in the sitting room?
This was pleasant enough and so was the waiter who asked if I would like a cup of coffee. “Yes, decaffeinated, no sugar and a little milk.” As he departed to prepare it, M Blanc arrived. “Bill, how good to meet you. Let me show you around the room,” he said in that extraordinarily thick French accent and gave me the grand tour of the room including the windows, the curtains, the sofas and the carpet.
After 10 minutes the coffee arrived and exactly at that moment we left for a tour of the lawn. While we stood in the middle of the yard, a waiter arrived carrying a table, plonked it in front of us and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. So I ordered a second time. As soon as it arrived M Blanc jumped up and said I must see the kitchen.
The kitchen was indeed a revelation and the staff obviously adored their boss and were eager to offer us a cup of coffee. The arrival of this beverage was a signal for M Blanc to show me the garden.
It was glorious, a living example of his ideas about being organic. Here was a man in control of his ideas. He put them into practice.
He was also in control of his waiters who followed us and asked if we wanted a cup of coffee in the middle of the leek bed.
They arrived with the pot as we finished inspecting the Le Manoir pool and M Blanc started our journey to inspect the new apartments he had designed.
These were dripping in sensuality, several had no doors inside so you could always see the object of your desire. Fortunately I could also see the object of my desire, the ever patient waiter asking if I would like a cup of coffee. “Yes,” I replied, a bit too eagerly. He disappeared and Raymond and I explored four different exotic suites.
When the coffee arrived Raymond said he would taste it first. It was not hot enough for him and he sent it back. I waved goodbye reluctantly to the coffee and to M Blanc. After five cups of ‘almost’ coffees it was time to go. I was a bit confused.
Was I in Raymond Blancs’s magnificent restaurant or in Woody Allen’s most malevolent movie? And would this man who caters for the rich stand up for the poor? Maybe.