East Anglia should be proud of its produce says award-winning Maison Bleue chef Pascal Canevet
PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 October 2017 | UPDATED: 20:49 22 October 2017
Pascal Canevet, chef patron of award-winning restaurant Maison Bleue, sings the praises of East Anglia's produce and the two women who inspire him every day
They say behind every great man, there’s a great woman. In Pascal’s case, there are two - his mother Lea, from whom he inherited his love of home-grown produce; and wife Karine, whom he credits for making him the chef he is.
I caught up with the Brittany-born owner of award-winning Bury St Edmunds restaurant Maison Bleue after another busy lunch service. His mother, whom he credits with teaching him how to produce “food with love”, was very much on his mind.
“Every day when I cook I always have memories of my childhood, of my mum when she was cooking. Today I was cutting some fine green beans remembering how I would pick them from the garden. My mother would never allow us to cut them by knife because there was too much wastage. Today of course I was... if my mother could see me,” he laughs.
He was lucky to grow up in the countryside, where the family bred lamb, goose, duck, and chicken; growing their own fruit and vegetables. Everything they enjoyed on their plate came from their own smallholding; which gave Pascal, he believes, a deep affinity for the importance of provenance and good food.
He’s a champion of locally grown produce. When choosing ingredients, he’s big on the farm to plate approach, taking time to learn about the provenance of what he’s using from the farmers and suppliers he visits; many of who have become good friends.
“We’ve always sourced as much as possible from East Anglia. We’ve got some great established suppliers and there are new independents with a wealth of new produce and flavours this year. Compared to when we first opened Maison Bleue 20 years ago, we should be very proud of the area we’re living in because the quality of produce keeps improving.
“I like to work with local farms, selecting only the best well reared meat and organic produce. When you’re working with excellent ingredients, farmed locally, you take pride in producing the very best to enhance its flavour.”
He says it’s incredibly important to help future generations understand sustainability and seasonality. Flavour is the key to good nutrition and we need to experience the delicate flavour of fresh, natural produce; to engage our senses. He loves sharing his passion for cooking with local schools the way his mother did with him.
“I do a little basic food teaching at Westley Middle School and last year enjoyed working with students at West Suffolk College Culinary Arts Academy, creating a delicious five-course dinner. I already have plans to do more with the Culinary Arts Academy as I really feel we need to constantly engage with students about classic cooking and how important it is to understand where our food comes from,” adds Pascal, who writes for several publications including West Suffolk Resident magazine.
He and Karine moved to the UK in 1994. He was second chef at Mariners, in Ipswich, becoming head chef after eight months. Four years later, Maison Bleue opened its doors for the first time.
It’s hard work, but they’ve enjoyed every minute. The Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club supporter is keen to stress the restaurant’s success isn’t down to him alone.
“It’s the team around me, many of whom have been with us for a long time,” says Pascal, who loves visiting Aldeburgh, Blakeney and Holkham with Karine when they get the chance. Cambridge’s architecture and his passion for the coast is another lure.
“The East Anglian seaside is just like it was 30 years ago, when you see the little huts on the seashore with fisherman selling their fish, it’s how it’s always been and should be, I really love it.”
He says he wouldn’t be the chef he is today without his co-owner wife, who manages front of house.
“She says she would never work with anyone else,” he laughs. “When I create a new dish, we taste and talk about it together, so we improve things all the time.”
Pascal - who supports many charities including GeeWizz Charity, holding events at the restaurant and offering the chance to have him cook in your own home as an auction prize at this year’s Ball for GeeWizz; Inspire Suffolk, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Sir Bobby Robson’s Foundation - says his team and customers are his family.
“We get people from across the world coming to eat here, with regulars from London and we’re very lucky to be supported by all our local, loyal customers. One day we had three generations of the same family in on the same evening at different tables. The parents were here, their children arrived and then a young couple turned up and it was the granddaughter... we really love Bury St Edmunds and so many of our customers are now such good friends.”
There’s not much Pascal dislikes about living in East Anglia, although a little more space would be nice.
“It’s a bit too crowded between houses where we live, so slightly more garden space would be nice... even the roads, if they were enlarged it’d be great because they’re very busy.”