For the benefit of those of you who have been under a rock for the last decade (Hehe) Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saison is French charmer Raymond Blanc’s little piece of Michelin starred heaven in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside. The hotel boasts 32 fabulous rooms and suites (including the incredible Blanc de Blanc suite where hubby and I spent our wedding night!) however it is the food that people flock from miles around for, not to mention the first class service by the friendly and welcoming staff. I’ve been a little bit in love with Le Manoir ever since we first visited in June 2010 so when the opportunity arose to attend a Gluten-free cookery course at the hotel’s prestigious RB cookery school I though, what could be more perfect?
I will admit to being a little nervous however at the prospect of creating something vaguely edible on this hallowed turf of culinary excellence and not making a fool out of myself with my complete lack of kitchen skills! I really needn’t have worried. The course was headed up by the humorous and easy-going Mark Peregrine, the school’s head tutor. Mark began working as Raymond’s first apprentice in 1979 and helped Monsieur Blanc to gain his first ever Michelin star. Mark immediately made myself and my three fellow students feel at ease with his jokes and anecdotes about working in the kitchens as well as asking us plenty of questions about ourselves. We all had differing amounts of experience and skill and different reasons for being there. One of the girls was coeliac so for her it was particularly important to add some new dishes to her repertoire. I am also strictly gluten-free as I have a strong intolerance to wheat and gluten. I tend not to buy gluten-free substitutes as I find they can often be fairly un-healthy, instead preferring to stick to “real food”. There are certain things about this diet however that I dearly miss. For instance having something to spread my favourite Spanish delicacy Alioli (garlic mayo) on in the summer and I also struggle with a real lack of choice for breakfast, especially if I want something sweet. Well it turns out I was in luck. We were to learn to create four different dishes (yes four!) during our three-hour course.
These were to be Focaccia (Italian bread), buckwheat pancakes, a chocolate fondant (soufflé type thing) and an almond tart. We generally paired up to do a lot of the preparation which not only saved time, thus allowing us to get through so much but also lessened the pressure and meant we could have a bit of a chat and a giggle whilst we worked. Mark and his lovely assistant Becca gave us lots of fab tips along the way for shortcuts and advice on how best to do things. We also didn’t go hungry! Whilst enjoying a cup of tea we were presented with the best gluten-free Lemon cake I had ever tasted! We didn’t get the recipe for this sadly but I think it was made using coconut flour. We then proceeded to taste our Focaccia fresh out of the oven, our pancakes along with a healthy selection of fillings prepared by Becca and last but most definitely not least, our chocolate fondant which was a little piece of heaven on a plate!
Also joining us for the afternoon was Le Manoir’s resident nutritionist (and Blanc’s GF) Natalia Traxel. I instantly loved Natalia when she turned up wearing a T-shirt with “Rosé all Day” printed across the front. A girl after my own heart! Natalia is both lovely and super clever. She is a qualified medical doctor as well as a nutritionist as she has a strong interest, like myself, in the connection between diet and lifestyle and health. She was onboard to answer any nutritional questions we had and having her there added another fab element and insight to the course.
Under the expert guidance I’m pleased to say that everything we made tasted divine! I actually had to frequently remind myself that I had indeed made it, but then again we were in very good hands. The ingredients were generally fairly healthy with nothing tasting overly sweet. We discussed with Natalia, the fact that sugar is generally the healthiest sweetener to use. Obviously I wouldn’t eat like this every day but its fab to have options for sweet and yummy things that aren’t terribly bad for you if eaten in moderation. There was a lot of information to take on board but we were encouraged to take notes if we wished and were given a booklet to take home with all the ingredients and recipes inside as well as alternative ingredients to try in case of allergies or preferences. The thing I came out of the experience with most was confidence. Confidence to try things I wouldn’t necessarily have tried before as I would have thought them too complicated or time-consuming. That and a fabulous cherry and almond tart to show off to the family with! A great, fun afternoon in a very beautiful location.
The Raymond Blanc cookery school run a huge range of different classes including several that fall under the “wellness” category. For more info and to book CLICK HERE