Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Learn To Cook At Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir

Learn to cook in luxury and style at Raymond Blanc's Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.

Clad in chef's whites and a burgundy apron, seven pairs of eyes marvel as Stephen Bulmer, Director of Le Manoir’s Ecole de Cuisine, fillets a turbot. I glance down at the fish, flat-out on the chopping board beside my sharp knife. I'm sure it winces as the theatrical display reaches its finale, knowing full well my turn is next.

It’s the second day of a four day course at Raymond Blanc’s renowned Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, and thankfully, skill isn’t a prerequisite. It’s the only place in the world where you can learn to cook in the kitchens of a two star Michelin restaurant and as we do, it seems an injustice that we should be having so much fun while the troops behind us diligently prepare the exquisite cuisine Le Manoir is famous for.

Students stay at the fifteenth century manor house for the duration of their course, sampling the fois gras, truffles and quail egg pasta which embellish the intricate combinations on the menu. The bedrooms are as sumptuous as the food, each individually designed with working fireplaces, contemporary art work and deep baths adorned with candles. Everything served is homemade and organic, and students can spend an evening in the kitchens or join the early morning bread run for a taste of the professional atmosphere.

The school has its own area adjacent to the main kitchens, fully equipped with hobs, ovens and shelves decked with an assortment of oils and condiments. Once we’ve extracted our fillets and been shown a fonds de braisage (known only to me as a sauce until an hour ago) the fetters are loose and cooking commences. Saucepans chime in time with the radio, enticing a jig from Stephen as he moves around the group offering advice. There’s a flurry of activity as we join in his antics, sending our ingredients into disarray as the kitchen chorus of Hey Big Spender reaches a crescendo.

It’s not only French cuisine taught at Le Manoir; courses encompass the tastes and textures of the world. After eating the fruits of our labour, we deviate from fish as another chef, Tony, joins us to prepare his mother’s chicken Bhuna recipe. (I’m told they always add that this as an extra at some point during the week). This is followed by Stephen’s Thai fish soup and a few words on obtaining oriental ingredients.

Fresh food, lovingly prepared is the ethos of the kitchens and this principle is shared with the students. Hundreds of tips and techniques are divulged as the whys and wherefores of certain procedures are revealed, from utilising waste ingredients, to creating simple yet functional garnishes.

We learn about organising dinner parties, planning menus and advance food preparation techniques. There’s no scrimping on time, knowledge or ingredients; long after the course was meant to finish, we’re still here, sampling balsamic vinegars, ranging from £15 to £150.

Quality and nutrition is paramount and mention is made of the poor ingredients found in many supermarkets. I’m not the only one who has to consciously close my jaw when we learn that farmed salmon are administered hormone pills to change their sex so that their breeding can be controlled and regulated.

Although some would say that you do have to be a big spender to enrol on the four day course at £1790 per head (including accommodation and meals), it is thoroughly enjoyable. Students leave inspired and confident, taking away new-found knowledge equal in quantity to the food they’ve prepared and sampled. And believe me, that is saying something!

For further information about cookery courses and staying or dining at Le Manoir, telephone 01844 278881 or email The website address is

Rachael Hannan: 2004

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