Cookery school review: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
The course: Maman Blanc, from £385pp (includes teas, coffees and informal lunch)
Where: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton, Oxford
What it’s like
I doubt there’s a prettier location for a cookery school than this idyllic country house hotel and restaurant. It’s so perfect, you feel you’ve walked onto a film set.
The day starts with a visit to Le Manoir’s fabulous vegetable and herb gardens to harvest the raw materials for the course. Next it’s back to the school and into the training kitchen, which has prep stations for about eight students dotted around the periphery and a bank of screens that shows what’s happening in the tutor’s pans.
My visit was the first time the course had been tried and Raymond Blanc ran it himself. He’s a passionate man and often got so carried away with his subject that his instructions got a little lost – but other tutors were on hand to calmly guide us if we weren’t sure what to do. In future the course will be taught by school director Mark Peregrine or his colleague Marcus Pepper.
What I learned
Raymond often talks about the influence Maman Blanc had on his cooking and the course is based on the food she made for him growing up in rural France. They’re rustic dishes but smart enough to impress at a dinner party. The menu included two soups (the watercress soup, made without stock and barely seasoned, was a revelation) and two salads; three main courses such as comté cheese soufflé, poulet au vinaigre and steak Maman Blanc; and for dessert, cherry tart (it depends on the season).
That’s a lot of dishes for one day, but we didn’t make everything ourselves. We prepared a soup, main course and dessert; Raymond demonstrated the rest to us – and let us eat it.
It’s not a course for absolute beginners (we had to joint a rabbit), but I learnt a lot about the cuisine of Monsieur Blanc’s home region of Franche-Comté and also picked up some great tips, straight from his Michelin-starred kitchens.
It’s a busy but enjoyable day – and Maman Blanc’s food tasted pretty good too. The course is an expensive one, but when you factor in the setting and intensive tutoring, it’s decent value for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.