This week my mind has been decidedly on food. I grew up eating fruit and vegetables my dad grew in the garden, supplemented by produce shared by the community. One person in the neighbourhood might have an abundance of Victoria plums and another a plentiful supply of rhubarb, and as children we were encouraged to fill our baskets. We gathered nuts and berries from hedgerows, collected windfall apples (while watching out for dozy wasps, drunk on fermented apple juice) and went scrumping for cherries (keeping an eye out for the irate farmer). I cannot recall where that last scavenge took place but in the spirit of making amends, I apologise. What can I say, I was only around seven or eight and the luscious, ruby red, low-hanging cherries were too much of a temptation.
Dare to Dream
This week I was excited to be invited to join Raymond Blanc LIVE from Oxfordshire via Zoom. The world-renowned chef is passionate about sustainable food, grown locally and eaten seasonally. Raymond Blanc is a good raconteur although you need your wits about you to keep up with his sharp intellect, rapid dialogue and wild gesticulations. When he talks, the self-taught chef puts every ounce of himself into the performance and it’s a delight to be in the ‘audience’. Especially on this occasion with a front row seat.
At two Michelin star Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons Chef Raymond practises what he preaches and over seven years has planted an orchard of 2,500 trees, heritage varieties of mainly English apples. There is also a beautiful walled vegetable garden that supplies the restaurant with seasonal produce.
The world-famous chef talked about his childhood. “Women cooked, men didn’t”, says Blanc. However, he would spend time in the kitchen watching his grandmother prepare meals, often Sunday lunch for 20 family members. One of the things he learnt was the best varieties of seasonal fruit and vegetables for specific dishes. (Maris Piper make the best French fries).
“Food is about love.” Raymond Blanc, OBE.Tweet
The young Raymond would hunt and forage in the forest and sell his produce. At around 14 years (he says he looked about 12) when he had saved up his earnings, he treated himself to a memorable restaurant meal, a dish of kidneys and rice, accompanied by a half bottle of wine. He recognised that this was ‘different to maman’s food’ and the experience started his journey to learn more as he dared to dream about a future in the industry.
In the same way that the fashion industry has recently come under scrutiny, food production needs to change. “We need to reinvent our agriculture” he says, to be sustainable. Starting with our children we need to teach them where food actually comes from, rather than the supermarket shelf.
“Food is about health”, he says. “It’s up to the consumer to be knowledgeable”. In the UK “we import seventy per cent of our food… and fruit and vegetables are “grown for marketing, not flavour”. Blanc urges us to ask about what we are ordering in a restaurant or when shopping. Where does it come from, is it locally grown or has it travelled thousands of miles? Is it organic? “Are the scallops dredged or hand dived?” Dredging kills all seafood dredged and collects young scallops that should be left to grow,” says the chef.
Blanc also talked about the changes to the hospitality industry and the ‘horrendous consequences’ for everyone, including unemployment. “It has been tough, tough, tough, to first of all close (Le Manoir) for lockdown, and to reopen under new safety guidelines.
Ultimately, Raymond Blanc believes it’s up to us, the buyer, to educate ourselves about food, how it is produced, how it affects our health and how we can support a reinvention of the food industry by putting pressure on government, and by shopping wisely.
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is owned by the luxury Belmond Group. Raymond Blanc Live From Oxfordshire featured a live interview with journalist, Harry McKinley, and was part of Belmond’s Dare To Dream series and was hosted by Satopia Travel.
In my inbox
Pantomime pictures at Windsor Castle
During the Second World War, Her Majesty The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and her sister Princess Margaret took part in a series of pantomimes in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle to raise money for the Royal Household Wool Fund. The yarn was used to knit comforters, a soft blanket, for soldiers fighting at the Front.
The walls in the Waterloo Chamber were lined with a series of portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence. These were removed from their frames for safe keeping at the beginning of the war, before the bombing of London began.
In their place a total of 16 ‘Pantomime Pictures’ were commissioned to cover the bare walls in a ‘festive’ manner. A teenage evacuee named Claude Whatham (1927 to 2008), a part-time art student at Wycombe Technical Institute and School of Art, recreated fairy-tale characters on rolls of wallpaper which were then pasted up by the Castle decorators.
Fast forward, and the portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence were returned to the Waterloo Chamber after the war. The Pantomime Pictures remained hidden beneath them and have been revealed only once since World War II following the shocking Windsor Castle fire of 1992.
During the lockdown, the Sir Thomas Lawrence portraits were once again removed during essential maintenance work. A window of opportunity, therefore, arises to see the revealed Whatham’s colourful paintings.
The sytory is even more fascinating as Whatham went on to become a very successful TV and film director (Swallows and Amazons, 1974 and Cider with Rosie, 1971).
Windsor Castle reopens to the public on 23 July.
Valentino Fall 2020/21 Collection
Valentino launched its new Haute Couture Fall Winter 2020/21 collection this week with a digital live performance by the brand’s Creative Director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, made in collaboration with Nick Knight. The collection was shot in Italy with Mariacarla Boscono modeling. Designer Piccioli believes digital “can be a new communication tool in fashion as long as the human remains at the centre.” I believe that digital offers access to unique experiences but would always choose reality over virtual, given the choice.
“A dream of pure fashion in which the painstaking work of the Ateliers is handed over to artist Nick Knight to bloom and flourish in light.” The atmospheric show was announced on Instagram and is available to watch at Valentino.
The Class of 2020
Emergent artists from a range of London art schools will take over The Hari with a contemporary exhibition of year-end work. Students had to sacrifice their much anticipated essential degree shows due to lockdown this summer.
The five-star hotel has been closed for four months and this is a very positive reopening with support for London students. Art students across the UK look forward to their graduate shows to showcase their work and launch their career. Finding the perfect venue to host is often a challenge. Staging the event is often part of students’ accreditation.
The exhibition will cover a range of mediums. Artists of note will include: Olivia Sterling whose cartoonish paintings will showcase in White Cube’s online exhibition this year; and Katrina Lalic, who focuses on the augmentation of materiality from screen to surface, interestingly, transferring digital drawings into oil paintings. Lalic’s work is the opposite process of Nick Knight’s current exhibition of digital images of roses that appear as paintings. If you’re interested, you can read more about Knight’s work in my recent review Roses From My Garden at Travel Begins At 40.
Reminder, Tate Reopening
A reminder that Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives will reopen from tomorrow, Monday 27 July. Hundreds of artworks are being uncovered, reinstalled and switched back on including major exhibitions of Andy Warhol, Aubrey Beardsley and Naum Gabo, all being extended into the autumn, as well as works from Tate’s collection, from paintings by David Hockney, Chris Ofili and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to sculptures by Barbara Hepworth, Sarah Lucas and Saloua Raouda Chocair, amongst many others. To ensure safety measures all visitors including Members need to book a timed ticket in advance. A one-way route through the displays will be in place (and this includes access to the loos, in case you were wondering). tate.org.uk/visit.
Last but not least
The summer is rushing by so it’s important to make the most of the remaining weeks and get out into nature before the weather cools. Cliveden House is open once again for lunch, afternoon tea and al fresco picnics, for both residents and non-residents alike, under direction from executive Head Chef, Paul O’Neill. It’s also possible to escape onto the water on a private river cruise, complete with a Cliveden picnic hamper. Or explore the 376 acres of magnificent grounds that surround the National Trust mansion. Picnic hampers and blankets can be pre-booked and collected from the Great Hall.
Diary note: The Cliveden Literary Festival is scheduled to take place this year on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 November 2020, all being well.
That’s been my week. Leave a note in the comments if you have an exhibition to recommend, or a book or a podcast. I hope all is well with you and yours. Stay safe and well.