I love gardens. As a kid I would help my papa to grow the food for the whole household. There were seven of us – a lot of people to feed – so I know a lot about the soil, seasonality, variety. And that became the foundation of my craft as a chef.
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Of course flowers were also part of it, because when you have a garden you want companion flowers for colour and structure. I look at gardens in so many different ways, in terms of the environment, beauty and variety. They are all pleasure for me.
At Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison we have 12 gardens and they are the heart and lungs of everything we do gastronomically. The garden is a place of art, where food meets beauty. At the moment we are just finishing a bee village, which will be hand painted and the Queen will have a little castle, it will be a bit like the planet of the Petite Prince.
The RHS is now involved in Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison because we have the first gardening school in the world in a hotel or restaurant. We bring schools or young people who are disadvantaged, to the Manoir to teach them how to grow and nurture a tree or a tomato.
The first time I went to RHS Chelsea Flower Show was more than 25 years ago and I was dazzled, I had never seen a show like that anywhere. It is a world class show in every possible way. There’s colours, music, fashion, plants and joie de vivre.
We created a Malaysian garden in 2010 at Chelsea, with things like herbs and ginger, and we won silver gilt in 2010. I was the happiest man on earth: it was my first garden at Chelsea. It took us six months to create, but that’s me; if I see something beautiful I get completely into it. It was at a time when vegetables were barely accepted in Chelsea Show Gardens. They thought a vegetable was a poor cousin of plants and flowers, whereas now the vegetable is fully celebrated at the Chelsea Flower Show.
My favourite point in the Chelsea week is usually Monday where my restaurant Jardin Blanc is ready. I always take two hours to meet friends and to meet people who show their gardens. Jardin Blanc is effectively a space within a bigger space, it’s a sanctuary of art, entertainment and gardens. Andy McIndoe, who has won lots of gold medals at Chelsea, works on the garden, and he is a joy to work with. Gardening is a very friendly world, ideas are shared and given and received it is a beautiful calming scene.