Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Raymond Blanc Cookery School

Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons
Church Road,
Great Milton, Oxford OX44 7PD

A little while back, I reviewed a meal at Le Manoir, the restaurant owned and run by Raymond Blanc. Shortly after returning I discovered that they had a cookery school and ran a couple of courses that were (more or less) suitable for vegetarians.

One of the courses, Garden to Plate advertises itself as "This course will use the bounty of our organic garden to create wondrous vegetarian dishes" so when the opportunity came along to join the course, I jumped at it.

The staff at Le Manoir are extremely helpful and I rang to check the suitability of the course for non-meat eaters and was told that although the course focuses on vegetables there was one meat dish on the menu. Personally, that doesn't bother me, I would just not cook or eat it, but I know that some vegetarians would not like that. However, the chance to send the day being taught by a chef at a two Michelin star restaurant was more important to me than the fact that I would not be able to eat one of the dishes. Several days before the course, an overview of the menu arrived in the post, allowing me to peruse through the various ingredients and techniques we would cover.

Eventually, the day arrived and I made the trip to Le Manoir. After coffee, the others on the course and myself (there were seven of us in total) were shown around the cookery school kitchen which is next to one of Le Manoir's main kitchens.

We were handed out chef's jackets (which we got to keep - how cool is that?) and our tutor for the day, Vladimir Niza introduced himself. He is a nutritionist and food technology expert, which meant that not only could he cook good food, he could also tell you exactly what was happening while it cooked which added an extra dimension to the course.

And so to the cooking. The course was a mixture of practicals and demos and we cooked lemon and rhubarb tart, tomato and mozzarella tart, grilled goats cheese and vegetable salad (the meat-eaters did squid instead of the cheese) , mushroom crepes, plum crumble, artichokes and various other dishes. We also got to wander around the gardens at lunchtime, with instructions to feel free to taste any of the vegetables or herbs should we want to.

After lunch it was back in the kitchen to finish up and learn the secrets of Le Manoir's fruit crumble...
One of the things I find really encouraging about Le Manoir is their attitude to their ingredients. They are currently building a dossier that contains information about all their ingredients. For example, for the meat they use the dossier conatins information about where they come from, how they are fed, where they are slaughtered and general information about welfare conditions on the farm and their organic status. Similar information is held about the vegetables and other ingredients that are used. Vladimir informed us that Raymond Blanc's vision is to have every ingredient used by the restaurant sourced from within 50 miles by 2010. I think this is a fantastic idea.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, the food was great and I learnt a fair bit. I'd love to go back and do another course sometime, but I'm going to have to start saving for it as they aren't cheap. Still, it'll be nice to be able to wear my new chef's jacket at my next dinner party.

1 comment:

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