Why would my first restaurant have been named Les Quat’ Saisons? My reasoning was simple: seasonal cooking is the foundation of my cuisine-and the seasons are the essence of my Maman Blanc’s traditional and intuitive cooking style, a style that has profoundly influenced my life since childhood.
I came under the influence of the seasonal cooking at a very young age, and in a very hard way. As boys, my brothers and I were expected to toil for many hours in our large family garden, where so much of our food was grown-endlessly picking stones out of the soil (they seemed to grow there!), watering the plants, weeding, hoeing and yet more backbreaking weeding. There were no free lunches coming from Maman Blanc’s kitchen! So we worked hard in the garden for our food, week in week out, while in the distance we could hear the joyful shouts of our friends playing football.
But I also took notice of those superb vegetables growing and the ripening- and of that wonderful fruit-giving us a bountiful harvest according to the season. In this way I also learned about varieties and their different tastes and textures. Then came the harvesting-mountains of peas, beans, beetroot, and potatoes to prepare, and of course many baskets of fruits. Much of this Maman Blanc would preserve in hundreds of jars, stacked on the many shelves of a cellar almost as big as the house. It was a real family business! Looking back, this intensive effort (this child labour!) instilled in me the best understanding of each season. It was the very
best school of learning. It showed me that vital link between seasonality and gastronomy, as well as giving me a great respect for the food we worked so hard for.
There were breaks from this garden toil for me, however. These, for a boy, were the exciting days of hunting, foraging and adventure in the nearby forests of Burgundy. With my friends we would collect masses of edible snails and wild asparagus in springtime, frogs in summer, wild flowers and many varieties of mushrooms and fungi according the seasons. Then, through our cottage industry, I saw a commercial opportunity. We began to supply local shops and restaurants with this wonderful, wild produce. Although I didn’t know it, I had become a very young entrepreneur! I had stepped into the world of food and business.
So the seasons have permeated my life, shaped it and defined it, right through to the ingredients I use in my cuisine. And what I think we are beginning to see happening today is a growing awareness of our neglected local specialities and some of our lost culinary heritage, and the need, the growing desire, to regain this knowledge and these values.
By Raymond Blanc