Well what a week this has been, and rather apt too it being National Baking Week and all. I spent the week at Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin starred restaurant in Oxfordshire, baking in the pastry kitchen. The first thing you should know about the restaurant is that it is beautiful, probably the most attractive setting for a restaurant I have seen in this country. It is set in a beautiful building surround by large perfectly managed gardens, including a large vegetable garden. I have to admit that the first day or so were fairly nervous for me. This was the first professional kitchen I have ever worked in and I guess I just felt a little out of place. This was also whilst I was working in the service side of the kitchen. The pastry kitchen doesn’t just serve the restaurant it also makes things for the hotels breakfast and afternoon tea as well as all the bread for the whole operation. The service side of the pastry kitchen deals with the restaurants desserts and because there is a very fast turnaround it gets very busy during service and a little stressed meaning I sometimes felt a little lost with everyone running around me.
I started the week making ice cream and sorbet bases including a wonderful pear and anise sorbet. Because a lot of this kitchen is prep work before service I peeled a lot of apples and segmented loads of grapefruit, which according to Monsieur Blanc I wasn’t doing as perfectly as I should have been. He actually seems like a very nice guy and came across very well the two times I met him. The second section I worked in is called the tour kitchen and is responsible for all the breads, cakes, and afternoon tea. I loved working this section, I got to make so any different things from start to finish including large batches of their famous lemon cake, huge batches of bread, masses of petit four and many many other things. I was so impressed with the output of the kitchen. The desserts look completely stunning and everything I tried was great. The breads were also amazing, I especially loved the sourdough. The chefs were all very welcoming and gracious with there knowledge and helped make the experience as inspiring as it was. I came away tired (12 hour shifts starting at 5.30 will do that to you) but with loads of ideas.