Raymond Blanc is a whirlwind of a man. A wind tunnel of ideas, wisecracks and long, hilarious, partially understandable jokes. He's like the naughty boy at school that is cleverer than all the teachers. I was asked to work alongside Monsieur Blanc for a project recently and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands as I knew it would likely be an adventure that involved some excellent food and drink. I was not wrong.
Over the course of a photo shoot and a couple of dinners we became engaged in some particularly freewheeling conversations. His mind crackles with enthusiasm for a career that has lasted and grown over the years like a culinary Elvis Costello. It got me thinking a lot about creativity and longevity. Raymond is a self-taught chef of the highest order but also, a businessman who runs a world renowned hotel and a chain of restaurants. He has started a music festival, runs mentorships, lectures and courses. 27 of his trainee chefs have gone on to win Michelin Stars.
All of this however starts with the dish. Creativity at this level has to start with the basics - the onions, the garlic, the oil. A love for something that exists at the very basis of what you do; the part that you would be doing regardless of the crowd having moved on to something else. As Monsieur Blanc waxed lyrical over a particular foraged mushroom we were soon to taste, I am reminded of that spark that I long to hold close for many years.
I have however been guilty of misunderstanding the creative process in the past. As a teen reading Kerouac I imagined the act of creating as two frenzied weeks, 24 hour outpourings - bathed in Woody Allen's Manhattan black and white. The truth is often far more pedestrian:
"Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will - through work - bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great 'art idea.'" Chuck Close, artist.
If this is the case then Raymond Blanc has been turning up to work for years. I can certainly identify with this idea of treating creativity like 'work', not just when the so called 'muse' turns up; as it is a wildly fickle mistress.
It can take hours, days, months and years making noises, drinking tea, jamming, practicing, listening, reading, fretting - before, suddenly in a flash, all this madness prevails into something coherent and beautiful. It's not mere indulgence, it's essential - it IS the work. All that play and all that time spent with the building blocks is what enables you to leap into the unknown.
I have one more engagement planned with Raymond - he has promised we will try some particularly ancient and tasty vintages of Cognac and some delicious food. Perhaps then the 'work' can wait just a little bit longer.
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Jamie Cullum's latest album 'Momentum' is out now on Island Records