Junior Meets… Raymond and Oli Blanc
Tell us where the idea came from for Henri Le Worm?
Oli Blanc: I’ve always had a passion for nature, for food and for children from my father and a few years ago, the idea for this character came to me. My business partner, and girlfriend at the time, (former Casualty actress) Charlotte Salt, was a wonderful at drawing and she physicalized Henri Le Worm. It just went from there. The main attributes of Henri are from my father whom I love very much – cheek, charm and passion.
OB: It was quite organic. Once we had the first central character, imagination did the rest. We’ve got Derek the Ladybird, who’s a Brummie, an American spider called Texas Lou, and Lumpy the Maggot, who represents naughty treats. Actor Simon Pegg has done all the narration and brought all the male characters to life, which has added real humour. It’s lots of fun.
Explain what we can expect by downloading Henri Le Worm And His Amazing Cooking Adventures
OB: It’s an interactive story with characters that children will hopefully engage and identify with. It’s not preachy but we’ve maximized the educational capacity of it. There will be four apps a year, for each of the four seasons. Each will feature seasonal produce, such as cucumbers and lettuce, and children will be able to find out about the vegetables from the characters in an easy to understand way. Then when it comes to dinnertime, they will be familiar with them and want to try them because their favourite characters eat them.
Food is woven within the story but there are also interesting snippets and facts about the insects featured, too. Plus there are ten wonderful recipes reflecting the season that my papa has worked on, that mothers and fathers can make together with the child. We’ve also worked with Amanda Ursell to ensure they are nutritionally sound.
It’s aimed at children from two to ten years and I think each age group will take something from it – the younger ones will love the singing and music, the older ones will like the facts and characters.
So how do you feel about being compared to a worm, Raymond?
Raymond Blanc: What Oli is doing is so fantastic! It is connecting with kids who are very young and introducing them to the importance of gardening and of the outside world. Playing outside, growing food and understanding where food comes from – this is vital education. I’m very concerned about issues like intensive farming, seasonality and health – and how they are all linked. We have here a £30 billion problem with obesity and cardio disease in Britain.
How do you hope Henri Le Worm will influence family mealtimes and the food attitudes of today’s children?
RB: Henri Le Worm is not going to change the world completely but by parents choosing the app for their kids, they are making a good step. There is so much we need to do as a society. Food connects into everything – health problems, family problems. The government putting food technology back on the curriculum is a start. But I am pushing to make sure they put more emphasis on educating children about gardening and where food comes from. There is also the big problem of food security. We are not growing enough to feed everyone.
Is the problem as bad in France or have you seen similar changes?
RB: There have been big changes in France, my God. If anything, France is losing all this incredible wealth of knowledge whereas England is reconnecting. We are seeing a cultural shift here. We have eaten so much horse in our burgers, never asking where our food comes from. Mums and dads have been shopping without knowledge. Now there is a deep thirst to learn more.
What were the first food experiences you had as a child?
RB: I remember being with my two brothers and two sisters, we were growing things in the garden while our friends were playing football. Our garden sustained the whole house for nearly a year. We had a deep understanding of the seasons, of what we should grow. We experienced the whole process – growing and cooking and eating it.
OB: He had an amazing childhood. He told me stories about walking in the a forest and picking mushrooms and Fraise du Bois (French wild strawberries). Children are very much disconnected from the outdoors now.
You featured your mother in your programmes and you are working with Oli on this app. Why do you think food creates such a bond for families?
RB: It strengthens family life, eating together, cooking together. But we all eat separately now and 30 per cent of kids don’t know how to us a fork, it’s all finger foods, heavily processed foods full of sugar and salt. That’s what’s great about Henri Le Worm – it encourages no sugar and low salt.
Do you think parents seem to focus on cakes rather than savoury dishes when they cook with little ones?
RB: There’s not enough savoury stuff. There should be a better balance. And I want them to think about alternatives to sugar, like agave nectar. There are so many replacements for sugar that are low GI, so children don’t get that huge burst of energy followed by a crash. I’m so proud of Oli and how he has addressed these issues in the app.
Did you spend much time in the kitchen with your dad as a child, Oli?
OB: Both my parents worked incredibly hard to earn the success they have had and often I didn’t see much of my father, but it made me want to be with him more. Food is his genius, I can’t help but appreciate it. That, and his connection with nature. It is his whole philosophy.
It must be nerve-wracking cooking for Raymond? Do you ever try?
OB: I have tried a couple of times. I made a soufflé with his tutorage at Grand-mere’s kitchen in France. I’m proud to say it rose but I beat the egg too much. It was my first attempt – he gave it a six out of ten. He is a hard judge!
Was it important to you to teach your children to cook, Raymond?
RB: I never wanted them to force them. I had so many very well known chefs who sent their children to my kitchens to learn the family trade. You could they were being made to be there. I wanted my children to find their own passion and expression. Sebastien is a theatre director and Oli is very much into the app development, but they still have a connection to food. I’m very proud of them.
The concept of the app is great – would you like to see this develop in other areas, like books and TV?
OB: Absolutely. The idea actually started as a book but then we realised and iPad was the best format. There are so many opportunities, but I don’t want to run before we can walk.
RB: We can bring a lot of fun while educating people, so I am certain this app will succeed!