Despite not being involved with the food, Raymond was thankful for the job and worked as hard as he could to become the best possible cleaner he could be. ‘I polished surfaces until they shone like the mirrors at the Louvre; I would clean these huge eighteenth-century murals with a pan of vinegar until there wasn’t a single smear,’ he says. ‘I did my job so well that I was promoted to washing up, and then moved on to cleaning the glassware.’

Being in charge of the glasses gave Raymond the opportunity to taste the wines that were served at the restaurant, and within six months his knowledge of the different French varieties was huge. But he was still totally obsessed with food, finishing shifts at midnight only to spend hours reading everything he could on the subject. When he was finally promoted and became a waiter in the early 1970s, he finally had a chance to engage with the chefs and get up close and personal with the dishes. However, the head chef didn’t take to this too kindly.

‘The head chef was a tall man with a very nasty temper; I’d seen him throw around pans plenty of times. I started suggesting things to him – how about putting a little paprika in this, or a pinch of cayenne pepper in that? I just wanted to learn more about how he cooked his food, but he didn’t like it at all. One day, I approached him and he hit me in the face. I ended up in hospital with a broken jaw and broken teeth, then lost my job.’

This assault would put most off a career in restaurants, but Raymond wasn’t swayed. After being told he wouldn’t ever find a job as a waiter in Besançon again, the manager of the restaurant organised a job in England. As a fan of rock and roll and English culture, Raymond set off for a new life across the Channel.

‘I got a job as a waiter at a beautiful country inn called The Rose Revived, and within a few months I became the head waiter. It was appalling – nobody could understand a word I said! – but I was charming, and that’s what it’s all about. Eventually, the chef fell ill and I took on his position. I immediately planted a little kitchen garden, started to cook the food I loved and bought the tallest chef’s hat I could find!’

Within a month, the inn was full of customers as news of Raymond’s cooking spread. After working in a few other restaurants in Oxford, in 1977 he eventually opened Le Quat’ Saisons in the city centre, after mortgaging his house. ‘The restaurant was on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the city,’ he says. ‘All I had was an oven from 1956, a Kenwood from 1962, some eighth-hand tablecloths and a little plastic cockerel in front of the building. I painted the exterior in blue, white and red, so you knew you were about to enter a French restaurant. But I cooked my heart out. In a year, we had our first Michelin star. By 1981, we had our second.’

For a self-taught chef to gain two Michelin stars at their first restaurant so quickly is nothing short of incredible – but it took an awful lot of work. There were only five chefs in the kitchen, and Raymond would work eighteen hours a day, fuelled by espressos and an unwavering desire to become the best chef and restaurant owner he could be.

‘We didn’t have a garden, so I would get up at 5am, pick all the salad and vegetables, then work until 1am in the morning,’ he recalls. ‘It was hard work, of course, but this was the key to our success. However, even with two Michelin stars, we knew we were doing something more important. We were creating a vision which was about people – both our guests and the staff. We wanted to create an environment which was about joy, about celebration, about teaching. Somewhere that championed beauty in every single form.’

It was this that led to Raymond buying a manor house away from the city, in a small Oxfordshire village called Great Milton. This became Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons as we know it today; a magnificent restaurant and hotel which offers one of the best culinary experiences in the world. Retaining his two stars (which were awarded even before the restaurant opened!) and now able to create the garden he always wanted, Le Manoir quickly became a mecca for both diners and chefs who wanted to experience hospitality at its very finest – a status it has retained ever since.

While Le Manoir and its many gardens will always be the jewel in Raymond’s crown, he has done so much more than create a world-class restaurant. His chain of Brasserie Blanc restaurants across the country offer incredible food at a more accessible level (whilst still retaining all the values and ethos Raymond ensures at Le Manoir). Thirty-four of the UK’s Michelin-starred chefs cut their teeth at the kitchens of Le Manoir thanks to the training programme Raymond created, which sees chefs work each section for a certain period of time. He’s appeared in countless TV series and written just as many books which inform, educate and explore the world of gastronomy. He’s been the president of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, worked with the government to get more young people into hospitality and become an ambassador for British Apples and Pears to save heritage fruit varieties from being lost forever (something he is particularly proud of, and the reason why he planted an incredible fruit orchard of 2,500 trees at Le Manoir). All of this – along with his many other accolades and campaigns – is why he was awarded an OBE for services to the British food industry in 2008.

Having just turned seventy, you might think Raymond is beginning to wind down – but his work championing Britain’s food scene and at Le Manoir is far from over. With a full-on farm, network of beehives and a vineyard in the works at the restaurant, along with his continued work championing Britain’s heritage fruits and the benefits of buying organic and locally sourced produce, he’s far from done yet. Not too shabby for a young man who turned up on our shores nursing a broken jaw with no experience cooking in a professional kitchen.

Three things you should know

Raymond has always had an incredible team around him. His executive chef Gary Jones and head pastry chef Benoit Blin have both been at Le Manoir since the 1990s, while Clive Fretwell, the executive head chef across the Brasserie Blanc restaurants was previously the head chef at Le Manoir

As well as an OBE, Raymond was awarded The Legion of Honour in France – the only chef ever to hold both accolades.

Raymond established The Raymond Blanc Cookery School in 1991 and The Raymond Blanc Gardening School in 2017 – the only gardening school housed within a restaurant.