Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

The Raymond Blanc Cookery School

Collecting the Tomato Essence

Pistou Soup

Pan Frying Sea Bream

Pan Fried Sea Bream with Quick Cook Ratatouille
Many Varieties of Beetroot

A Sneak Peak into the Kitchens

Signed copy of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets

For my birthday, back in November, I was given a voucher for Raymond Blanc’s cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I opted for the Summer Dinner Party course, envisioning a day of culinary fun interspersed with breaks in the famously beautiful grounds. To my dismay the weather was windy and it rained all day, nevertheless it was well worth the six month wait.

As I approached the grand estate I felt rather out of place in my friend Hannah’s 1997 Nissan Micra (particularly when she tried to do a 3 point turn which turned into a 17 point turn in her non power-steering vehicle) but I was welcomed immediately by friendly staff as I walked in the rain along the path that led to the grand châteaux.

The tearoom was full of nervous excitement and anticipation as we 10 students waited to discover what the day’s venture would entail.

We were welcomed by our tutor Steve Lyons, who immediately made everyone feel at ease as he handed out our chef uniforms for the day. Once in our chef whites, we were led across the courtyard, through the main kitchens, dodging past the hustle and bustle of the real chefs who were busy at work, and finally into the classroom that would be our home for the day.

We were taught knife and chopping skills, and many handy techniques and clever tips and tricks throughout the day. The one I found the trickiest was learning when to stir and when not to stir my dish! Steve wasn’t a fan of the stirring as it makes your dish lose heat and slows down the cooking process but its just soo tempting!

There was a perfect combination of demonstration and instruction from Steve along with the opportunity to cook under the guidance of Philippe and Emily with the help of the magical fairies who tidied up after us.

Our tutor Steve prepared a slow roast shoulder of lamb and Raymond Blanc’s famous tomato essence, (which by the way was absolutely amazing; the cooled-in-the-fridge version made all of my senses come alive). And he showed us a new way of making risotto - without wine or stock or stirring!

In teams of two, we cooked roast red peppers filled with couscous, pan fried fillet of sea bream with quick cooked ratatouille (a dish I can definitely see myself doing regularly), pistou soup, fraisier with pastry cream and poached peaches.

The day was full of variety and, after we had cooked and eaten our lunch, we were given a tour of the glorious gardens. Ten percent of the food eaten in the restaurant is cultivated in the garden, so I was keen to have a good look at what was being grown. They were currently testing out the growth of many varieties of beetroot to decide which was their favourite. Everything at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has a story relating to Raymond Blanc's life and upbringing. When he was young, he spent his mornings with his father at the allotment in France and the afternoons cooking with his mother. We bumped into the man himself and he joined us on our tour around the garden. Huddling under one of our umbrellas, he spoke fondly of his garden and his love of lavender. It was great to meet someone so characterful and passionate about what he does.

I can’t think of a better of spending a Sunday and wish I could go back there every week.  

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