I rarely take time off work midweek, but a cooking class at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons was an invitation I could not refuse. Raymond Blanc is quintessentially French and yet he is one of the UK’s most respected chefs.
Raymond Blanc moved to England as a young self-taught chef, and has resided here ever since, cementing his name with Le Manoir, the two Michelin star eatery which every foodie hopes to visit. When his honest and inspiring TV programme ‘The Hungry Frenchman’ came onto our screens, his lovable personality captured the hearts of the nation.
With so many kitchen secrets to share, he opened a cookery school in 1998, and it fast became the top place in the country to learn to cook in a fun and informed way. The Raymond Blanc Cooking School is led my Mark Peregrine, a protégé of Raymond’s. Mark teaches many of the classes here which include Bread Making, Sauces, Patisserie and Desserts, Spring Dinner Party among others. One of the most popular courses is the Blanc Vite which is based on recipes from Raymond’s book of the same name and provides you with the skills and techniques to create fast and simple, seasonal dishes. I was lucky enough to experience the very special Hungry Frenchman course, inspired by the TV programme and taught by Raymond’s right hand man, Adam Johnson.
After a leisurely 45 minute train journey from Marylebone station, I jumped in a taxi and sped through the countryside towards my foodie destination. In the early morning dewy sunshine the luxury yet rustic hotel looked even better than on the website… I strolled around the verdant gardens working up an appetite for my day of eating, sorry, cooking.
The group of eight eager chefs gathered in a cosy sitting room and enjoyed coffee, fresh juice and homemade biscuits, waiting nervously for our first instructions of the day. Brief introductions were made and we were kitted out with suitable clothing before following our leader Adam through to the cookery school, which is in a separate building opposite the hotel. I was amazed by the loveliness of the teaching room, decorated in a homely style and yet filled with state of the art equipment and gadgets.
We were buddied up and shown our stations, the kitchen was immaculately organised down to the tiniest detail. Our cookbook for the day was lengthy and challenging including big flavours and useful techniques, a daunting but exciting prospect. I was happy to see classic dishes like French Onion Soup on the menu, something I have always loved to eat but never known how to attempt in my own kitchen.
Adam was kind but funny, as he taught us the recipes, he added culinary anecdotes and tips to help deepen our knowledge and broaden our skills. We started with a wonderful succulent lamb shoulder, and saw how to use the bones to make a rich gravy. Adam mentioned that this method can be used with any meat, solving all Sunday roast dilemmas. Though I don’t eat fish it was interesting to see how to perfectly fry a fillet of salmon: skin side up for the majority of the time, and flipped over for the final moments, to ensure a crisp edge but thorough cooking throughout.
Some basics were covered: how to poach an egg and make a salad dressing. We also got the chance to have a go at a few more advanced kitchen skills… including a complex Comte cheese soufflé and the art of shelling a scallop. There was no shortage of sweet treats. Each class member made a brilliantly easy but luxurious Reverse Chocolate crumble, using just a few ingredients to produce an impressive dinner party dessert.
The day was varied and inspiring, and seemed to pass by in a flash. We moved between the central station, avidly watching Adam, to our own cooking stations, where each pair prepared the recipes as instructed with immense concentration, some more competitively than others. At Le Manoir you are surrounded by delicious flavours and ingredients wherever you look, and the cookery school is at the centre of this culinary activity. Throughout the day we tasted all the food, as well as enjoying a feast at lunchtime with carefully chosen wine and regular tea breaks with scrumptious home-baked (of course) French biscuits.
Oxfordshire is an idyllic place to be and with the scent of Raymond’s culinary delights wafting through the air, I could have stayed forever. Except, for me, there was a restaurant waiting to be reviewed in London, so I had to dash off. Proudly carrying my homemade torte and new saucepan, I sadly waved goodbye to Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons promising a return visit very soon.
More information and book a class at the Cookery School here.