Michelin-star chef Raymond Blanc says the immediate consequences for the hospitality industry are ‘horrendous’, but the chef’s glass is still half-full.
At a virtual webinar, organised by Satopia Travel, the Frenchman and honorary English chef explains that we are yet to see the full extent of the financial fallout from the coronavirus crisis on the restaurant industry.
“We are going to see a lot of unemployment,” Blanc told the virtual audience, “and dire consequences”.
However, the chef, best known for his two-Michelin-starred country house and hotel Belmond le Manoir aux Quat’Saison, in Oxfordshire, England, said his glass is half-full and in time we might also see some positive developments from the coronavirus crisis and our time in lockdown.
“There are also going to be some very good consequences... in as much as we are going to realise that the environment is number one priority,” he said.
“There is going to be a complete reinvention of our society towards being cleaner and using clean energy. It’s really exciting.”
Blanc is in his ninth year as President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and is passionate about driving sustainable change in the industry.
“I believe we are going to reinvent our own agriculture,” said Blanc. “I also believe the consumer is going to reconnect with his own sense of responsibility and ask more questions…of retailers”.
Buying local and knowing where your food comes from is key for Blanc. “I see the consumer putting a lot more pressure on the government and retailers to reinvent our own agriculture. Why should we import our food from billions of miles away when we can mostly grow [it] here?”
Blanc lamented the fact that six out of every seven apples consumed in the UK comes from abroad. “We import 70% of our food in the UK,” he said. “When we could grow 60% of it. Imagine the new jobs you could create and you could [help] stop the greenhouse effect”.
Blanc believes that consumers have the power to steer food policy in the right direction.
“As a consumer you can do a great deal in order to… nudge your retailer to buy local food. Because if it’s local to home (you’ll have the best) colour, texture, flavours and better nutrients.” Buying local also stimulates local economies and reinvigorates local economies, he added.
“Of course we tend to buy the cheaper [items],” he said. “But I think if you know how it was produced you are willing to pay that extra penny. If we are to reinvent our agriculture here in England, I think we will have to pay maybe 20p extra for a kilo of apples, but I think it’s worth it.”
“We can change our habits and not go for the cheapest, because there are [sometimes] some terrible stories behind it," he said.
Blanc is a supporter of the vegan movement and the drive for people to eat less and more sustainably sourced meat.
“It was bound to happen,” he said. “Veganism is not a fashion, it is part of our lifestyle”.
“Our diets are all crazy. To eat meat ten times a week is dangerous,” he said. “Meat has all the wrong fats as well…whereas vegetables are really magical. Eating meat twice a week is alright. There’s nothing wrong with that. Even four times a week, but not ten times”.
“Eating a varied diet with more vegetables in it [is key],” said the lauded chef. “We have 30-40 dishes which are vegetarian or vegan (at La Manoir) and they are as delicious as any meat”.
Moving forward, Blanc thinks he will rethink how he labels the vegetarian or vegan dishes at La Manoir.
“I’m going to stop calling [these dishes] vegan or vegetarian… I don’t know what I’ll call them, but I have this idea because when you call them ‘vegan’ it devalues the beauty, the extraordinary flavours”.