It is among the world’s best restaurants, gracing every list of perfect places to eat on the planet.

This summer the two Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons celebrates its 35th birthday – and leading the celebrations is the man who established and still runs it, Raymond Blanc.

“Celebrating 35 years makes me so proud to have reached this far!” he says with the genuine excitement which has made him one of our best-loved chefs and among the most popular Frenchmen this side of ‘La Manche’.

Le Manoir, a 15th century manor house in Great Milton, is more than just a restaurant and luxury hotel; for Raymond it is a physical expression of his imagination – a gastronomic vision in mellow stone set among lush kitchen gardens and lavender scented footpaths. But, he insists, it is the people who make it.

“I work alongside a very dedicated team,” he says.

“Some of them who have been with me for decades and we have developed as a family together, which has kept us close and committed to reaching for perfection.

“Maintaining two Michelin star status for 35 years is a wonderful honour and I would like to extend my thanks to all my team – I am lucky to be surrounded by such great people. Mourad Ben Tekfa, restaurant manager; Gary Jones, executive head chef; and Benoit Blin, chef patissier, have worked alongside me for over 20 years.

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“It took a lot of work and sacrifices in the early days but I always wanted a place that exudes l’art de vivre!”

Raymond is celebrating by doing what he always does – exercising his gastronomic flair and dedication to sourcing and producing in his gardens, outstanding organic produce.

“Over the years, we have continued to exceed our guests’ expectations and we are still learning,” he says. “But it is a fantastic achievement and I am so proud as we are still considered one of the UK’s ‘must visit’ places. That means so much to me and all of my team.

“Over the years, we have trained many of the finest chefs including Ollie Dabbous, Bruno Loubet Michael Caines and Marco Pierre White, who have gone on to earn their own stars.

“But we must never be complacent. We are always pushing ourselves to realise new dreams and inspire young chefs who want to achieve their dreams too.”

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Raymond acquired his obsession with food from his parents while growing up in Besancon, in eastern France. ‘Maman Blanc’ was an exceptional cook and Raymond’s father a keen gardener and forager – Raymond joining him on trips into the woods.

His first experience in the restaurant trade saw him working as a glass washer and waiter near his home town, but after a dispute with the chef when Raymond offered him advice on his cooking, he packed up his Renault 5 and crossed the Channel, arriving in Oxfordshire for his first real kitchen job – at the Rose Revived in Newbridge.

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From there he came to Oxford, working at La Sorbonne in the High Street, then setting up his own Les Quat’ Saisons in Summertown, in 1977. The establishment was an instant success, being named Egon Ronay Guide Restaurant of the Year and picking up two Michelin stars.

In 1981 he opened the first of his nationwide chain of La Maison Blanc cafes and bakeries, then, two years later, made the move to Great Milton. In the 90s, he also opened his first Le Petit Blanc bistro. Now known as Brasserie Blanc, they offer a more informal, homely experience than the gastronomic temple of Le Manoir. His home branch is in Jericho, close to his North Oxford home.

So what is the secret to its charm, appeal and success of Le Manoir?

“We have a very beautiful house in a lovely part of the countryside,” he says. “It is a place with a soul. Each development pays respect to the building’s heritage and today’s incarnation is a lodging that wears its history with pride. Our house is a place to relax, enjoy and catch up with family and friends. But most of all to celebrate. It’s a place to take a few moments to live in the moment!

“Each of our 32 bedrooms is different; every one of them has an individuality that tells a story – most from my travels around the world.

“Outside, we have gardens within our garden; a Japanese Tea garden, vegetable and herb gardens, mushroom valley, Wildflower Meadow and orchards.

“We provide our guests with the very best service, the best attention – I am so proud of them and what we have collectively achieved.”

He goes on: “When I set out to create Belmond Le Manoir, I wanted to make it a place that was inclusive – no stuffy dress codes, no feeling that you had to behave or perform in a certain way.

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With a small business empire and television career to run, how much involvement does he actually have in Le Manoir?

“I have been hugely involved from the start and continue to be so – from the design of the bedrooms, the planting in the gardens, washing pots in the kitchen to hosting Royalty here. There aren’t enough hours in the day as we all know, but I do what I can!

“My team are all very skilful as we all work hard to reach the standard that we have here at Belmond Le Manoir. However, it doesn’t mean that has to be complicated – though you need to be dedicated and want to work hard to reach this level.

“I learnt from the best teacher, my Maman, and hope that we offer all our guests that too. My mother did not cook us complicated meals – she was a cook, not a chef – yet they were always fresh and delicious.

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“Our tomato salads we used to have were just perfect – Marmade tomatoes, salad leaves with finely sliced shallots and Maman made a dressing with Dijon mustard that was perfect – we had fresh bread with it to mop up the juice. We had meat a few times a week, always on a Sunday and it would be fish on a Friday. From her, I learnt that it does not have to be complicated, it just needs to use the freshest ingredients to be beautiful.”

Of what is he most proud? “There are many things I am proud of – let me think....” he smiles.

“Maintaining two Michelin Stars for 35 years is a wonderful accolade. Receiving my Legion d’Honneur in 2013 was a hugely proud moment. Welcoming HRH Prince of Wales here at Belmond Le Manoir to visit our Heritage Garden... they were all memorable and proud moments.”

And his happiest moment?

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“It is hard to have just one moment,” he says. “For me, happiness is when I am with my family enjoying a lovely meal together and talking, laughing. I am happy fishing – I don’t get to go as often as I would like but I love it when I go. I love going to Nice – enjoying the local markets, spending time reading – that makes me happy!”

And is there anything he would have done differently?

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I have always worked hard – sometimes perhaps too hard, but it has allowed me to reach where I am today. When my boys were younger, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked – but as I say, the hard work has got me to the place I am in now.”

This weekend he joins the cream of the nation’s culinary talent at The Big Feastival on Alex James Farm at Kingham, near Chipping Norton.

“I look forward to Feastival," he grins. "It has grown into a fantastic foodie event and now attracts people from afar. As well as the cookery demonstrations, there is entertainment, family shows – it’s a wonderful few days. I love it!”

  • For details and to book a table at Le Manoir go to