The secrets behind Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets
"Is there anything local on the menu?" asked Raymond Blanc. RB (as we all call him) had just arrived in Scotland for our first day filming on the second series of Kitchen Secrets and we were about to have a late supper at our hotel. The waiter looked like he might cry as he admitted the answer was "no".
I felt sorry for him, but also a little embarrassed. We were in St Andrews, the town of my birth. Like all expatriates, I was anxious that those I had brought here would understand that the beautiful Kingdom of Fife was a rich and wondrous source of some of the best seafood in the world. And yet there wasn't one local crab, clam or langoustine on the menu. But we weren't here to enjoy ourselves (well, maybe a little), and eventually Raymond ordered a plain grilled lemon sole. Judging by the length of time it took to arrive, several fish were sacrificed before one was deemed good enough to put before the great Blanc.
Fed and watered (or gently wined in Raymond's case) we went to bed early, as the next day we were to be up at 5am to head out to catch lobster in the Firth of Forth. The team consisted of Andy the cameraman, James our soundman and assistant producer Emilie. If it was too windy the boat wouldn't go out. As a producer, I long ago learned not to fret too much about weather. It is one of the few things I can’t control, so there is no point lying awake listening to the shipping forecast.
What did keep me awake was wondering whether Raymond could actually get onto the boat. He broke his leg pretty badly last year and was understandably a bit nervous about doing anything that might set his recovery back. Nevertheless Raymond brings out a motherly instinct in me and like any good, caring Scottish mother I put a hand on his shoulder and told him to stop complaining and just get on with it.
The sea outside the harbour wall was looking a bit lumpy. Andy was particularly pleased to hear this. The sound of him retching had punctuated the soundtrack of fishing for Dover sole in the first series. But my immediate concern was getting Raymond onto the boat. First Andy jumped on and his camera was passed down to him. Now it was RB's turn. One foot on the harbour side, one foot on the gunwales of the boat and RB leapt like a gazelle onto the deck. Emilie and I almost hugged each other. He was on the boat, the camera even had a tape inside it and that fluffy thing was on the microphone - so barring total disaster there would be something we could film.
A couple of hours later they returned triumphant. There were lobsters in crates, Andy had seen his breakfast but only once and Raymond was smiling - only because he hadn't realised that it was now low tide and the boat was far down against the harbour wall. He'd have to climb a four metre ladder...
I'm going to gloss over exactly what happened next. Raymond has blogged about it himself. All I will say is that there was language that isn't appropriate pre-watershed, so I did what all good producers do and tried to sooth the situation with food. We headed to the Anstruther Fish Bar, an award-winning fish and chip shop - all six of us jammed into a little booth with chairs fixed to the floor and ordered haddock and chips. This was as 'local' a specialty as we were going to get and I was confident Raymond would enjoy it.
Our overflowing paper plates arrived and it was a lunch of champions. Then I saw RB had raised his hand to wave over the waitress. "Madame, could I have a little mayonnaise, perhaps some sauce tartare?" My blood ran cold. The world was moving in slow motion. I knew what was coming. A plate arrived and on it, fanned out in their plastic perfection, was the fish bar's finest collection of condiment sachets. For a moment Raymond looked at them aghast. Then he got out his iPhone, took a picture, and mercifully, laughed.
I do hope you enjoy seeing the results of our days' fishing in the first programme of the new series of Kitchen Secrets. I look forward to reading your comments it means a lot to me to hear from people who watch the show - and hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Melanie Jappy is the series producer of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets, which returns to BBC Two, Mondays at 8.30pm. Read more from Melanie at the BBC TV blog about what it’s like to work with Raymond Blanc.