THE WINNER: Raymond Blanc Sponsored by: Heinz Foodservice
Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race, Michael Caines, Paul Heathcote, Eric Chavot, Chris Horridge: these are just a few of the top chefs to have passed through the kitchens of Le Manor aux Quat'Saisons over the past quarter-of-a-century. Raymond Blanc, its proprietor, can be said to be responsible for many of the vast improvements in the UK's eating-out scene in that time. Certainly he has nurtured some of the brightest talent this country has ever seen.
In fact, 21 chefs in all have gone on to achieve Michelin-starred status after working at the Oxfordshire hotel and restaurant. Other figures are remarkable: Blanc has spent 25 years at Le Manoir, all of that time with two Michelin stars to his name.
Le Manoir itself is a French-style restaurant with rooms in the English countryside, an iconic venue where people eat or stay when they have something special to celebrate. A pre-dinner walk in the beautifully tended herb and vegetable garden (supplying more than two-thirds of the restaurant's green produce) or along the lavender-fringed stone paths is one of the country's outstanding hospitality pleasures.
Blanc is continually looking to improve this love of his: the gardens that feed the kitchen. He's considering a seed-selling business under his name using products developed in the gardens, and has also undertaken extensive research into apple varieties prior to planting an orchard. A vociferous campaigner for better food, Blanc takes every opportunity to lambast modern industrial food methods and environmental destruction. He recently spoke at the Real Food Festival, strongly advocating a return to more sustainable food networks and a stronger culinary culture.
Blanc also has a stake in eight informal restaurant venues, Blanc Brasseries, and heads up the BBC TV series The Restaurant. It has marked a new stage in Blanc's career, bringing the industry and its challenges to a whole new audience and showing his restaurant skills along with those of being a chef.
The story of how he got to this level of hospitality is recounted in his recently published A Taste of My Life, a compilation of stories and memoirs. Born in Besançon in eastern France, Blanc grew up in an environment of good food: the serious cooking of his mother and the countryside rich in wild mushrooms, fish, dairy and meat, which proved to be a potent combination.
Blanc, however, left for the UK in 1972, taking a job as a waiter at the Rose Revived, near Witney in Oxfordshire, and helped in the kitchen before taking over the restaurant. Five years later he opened a restaurant in Oxford and gained two Michelin stars. One day he was touring the surrounding countryside and stumbled upon a decrepit building. Despite its poor condition, Blanc knew he had to take on the property, and Le Manoir was born.
The consistently outstanding food and high level of hospitality at Le Manoir is one of the reasons why we are delighted to honour the achievements of a man who has been integral to the UK industry for the past two decades. Raymond Blanc is a worthy winner of our 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, and his career has yet more to come.
Nominations for the Lifetime Achievement Award were compiled from recommendations by Caterer and Hotelkeeper readers and from suggestions from each of the Catey judging panels. The judging panel was made up of members of the Caterer and Caterersearch.com editorial teams.