For many people, myself included, Le Manoir is hallowed ground.
In the last month I’ve had the incredible opportunity to return to Raymond Blanc’s restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxford to continue shooting some really beautiful food.
Previously I have shot there for Great British Chefs, and earlier this year I had a great shoot with one of the nicest chaps I have ever worked with, Gary Jones. I was delighted to be heading back there a couple more times to shoot more food for Le Manoir – this time with a focus on the recipes for Raymond Blancs website.
The venue is incredible and the food is always awesome. Arriving at night is great because it’s all beautifully lit up: the buildings looks really dramatic and welcoming.
It doesn’t matter how many times I go, I’m always a tiny bit nervous before a shoot. I’ve worked with a whole bunch of chefs who have worked under Raymond Blanc, including Adam Simmonds, Michaels Caines, Alan Murchinson, Agnar Sverrisson, Gary Jones, and it’s always incredibly exciting to shoot in the master’s restaurant.
All the people I’ve met and worked with at Le Manoir have been really great. Raymond Blanc always comes across on the telly as the loveliest chap, and when I’ve had the good fortune to meet him, his personality definitely entered the room before he did – and he immediately offered me coffee, which is a winner in my book. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with a great group of chefs – including legends Adam Johnson and Ben Howarth.
Aside from the lovely people and beautiful food, one of the most extraordinary things about Le Manoir is their organic kitchen garden, which is absolutely epic. It’s huge and is full of pretty much every veg and herb you can think of. They have a team of gardeners at work on it all year round and speaking to them, it’s obvious they’re really passionate about the garden and the plants.
Organic means no pesticides or fungicides, so they have to keep an eagle eye on the plants – using soap spray and high pressure water to do battle with anything that creeps in. They rotate the garden religiously and because it’s been established for so long, they say that they have more problems with rabbits than diseases. It’s amazing to think that such a big restaurant is also growing pretty much all the vegetables they serve.
And they definitely get through a bunch of produce. To give you some idea, these are the basic details about their chicken stock, which they make a batch of every day: using 120 kilos of chicken wings, the chefs first make a white stock with 60 kgs, then add another 60kgs of roasted bones to finish making a brown chicken stock – all cooked up in a giant fixed tank stock pot which is about hip height and as wide as your armspan.
When you’re shooting the food, it is quite easy to forget about some of the kind of clientele Le Manoir serves: the food is amazing, but you’re interacting with chefs and marketing team, rather than some of the incredibly wealthy guests.
However, as we were packing up the car, one of the guests left in a helicopter, which really drove home that Le Manoir is one of the very top restaurants in the country, where people actually arrive and leave by helicopter in real life.