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Family outing to the Raymond Blanc Cookery School
‘This is the second-best day of my life’, little James said, as we kneaded our focaccia dough. “What was the first,” I asked? “Seeing Mo Farrah winning gold at the Olympics.” Yeah I can see that,” I said, almost lost for words. “I think it’s great too,” my teenage son butted in, “because we don’t need to do the washing up.”
Welcome to Le Manoir’s Cookery School, where for a day at least we got to pack all our worries in a Louis Vuitton kit bag and relinquish ourselves into the patient and capable hands of Steve Lyons.
Having met in the bar and been suited and booted in Le Manoir whites and a tasteful dark grey pinny, we found it was a surprisingly small group: three kids with an accompanying adult, a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But with a maximum capacity of 10, Le Manoir goes for small and intimate.
And although we had enrolled on the Adult and Child cookery course, there were no concessions. It kicked off at 9am when my son would normally have still been slumbering in bed, and by 4.15pm we were expected to have made focaccia, chocolate sponge, vanilla mousse, bavarois, roast chicken, spiced cauliflower soup, pistou and pesto, salmon with spicy watercress, potato purée mousseline, iles flottantes, chocolate mousse and crumble. This was not a course for shirkers. So we washed our hands, rolled up our sleeves and got stuck in. Under the expert tutelage of Steve, who has kids of his own, we were led through an astonishing array of techniques, dishes, tastes and methods, which he demonstrated and we then had to make for ourselves.
And in true Blue Peter style it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I won’t tell you what shape our chocolate fingers came out, or that our vanilla custard curdled the first time around and didn’t set the second, but the comment of the day — and boy there were lots — was “er, Mum... you’ve left the plastic on.” Steve was a bit more diplomatic, dishing out platitudes such as: “Oh well, it’s the taste that counts!”
And around us a small army of invisible helpers, weighed, washed, fed us coffee and biscuits, laid out lunch, cleared, wiped and generally eased our path, surreptitiously making it all look much easier than it was. Trying this at home would have left our kitchen like a bombshell, but then I guess that’s what you pay for.
Why we needed lunch I’m still unsure, because we ate everything on the menu anyway. But who could resist Le Manoir’s bread basket? Not me sadly. A small bowl of the spicy soup, followed by the salmon and watercress, roast chicken with potato purée mousseline, rhubarb crumble and more coffee and biscuits filled us up to the brim. But then as the day continued, we were also expected to taste the iles flottantes, my favourite dish in the whole wide world, as well as the pistou and pesto which we ate with home-made focaccia, so by the end of the course we needed to be rolled out of the door like Augustus Gloop.
The course co-ordinator, who came down to see how we were all doing commented: “Yes, it’s usually a lot quieter after lunch,” and even Raymond Blanc noticed when he nipped downstairs, because when he asked if we were having a good time, my son only managed: “It’s hard to speak because I’m so full.”
In answer to our prayers, Steve then gave us a much-needed walk around the grounds, ostensibly to show us how the food was grown and where it came from, but mainly to free up room for some more coffee and biscuits.
But as parents, we loved it, giving you quality time with one child. The two other candidates, little James and a girl called Daisy, both came with their fathers, one of whom spent the day “dad dancing” round the kitchen, because he was having such a good time — much to Daisy’s horror. Being horribly objective, I’m not sure how many kids like salmon with spicy watercress or would ever make it again, or whether my son would bother squeezing mash through a mouli. And although the desserts were amazing to make, some were too complicated to repeat at home... unless your mum is Delia Smith. But overall Steve made us raise our game and emerge at the end of the jam-packed session with something to be proud of.
And all too soon, the clock struck four, and we found our spoils packed into neat boxes alongside a goody bag. Our visit to Raymond Blanc’s magic kingdom was over. Not for my son though, he’ll be revisiting that trip in his head for ever.
Raymond Blanc Cookery School Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Church Road, Great Milton, OX44 7PD 01844 278881 or go to manoir.com