Raymond Blanc – how wonderful is he and how lucky am I

I honestly don’t know what to say about this experience except that experience is a word I need to use a lot to describe it.

Raymond Blanc is so wonderfully enthusiastic and passionate and seriously, if I could live in a corner of his room I would. This isn’t just about the food, he cares hugely about our young people learning about food, growing and serving home-grown vegetables. He loves it and is so keen on sending out the message. Not only that but I followed him around while he did voluntary community things and he was marvellous. In all honesty I would say he must have had other things going on and was stressed but didn’t show any of it to the people he was giving his time too. The residents of Watlington Care Home (and staff) all fell in love with him, I thought he would be captured and held to ransom. RB has an ongoing partnership with the RHS and met the In Bloom champions in Watlington and is very supportive in encouraging the growing of more local food, not just privately or in allotments but also in public places. He is very keen for gardening to be back on the educational curriculum so that the next generation can learn to garden and benefit from home-grown food.

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Raymond Blanc is a legend, I was so lucky to be invited to report on him. In fact he is so enthusiastic you have to move your glasses, handbags, anything within sweeping distance as he talks to you as he waves his arms in a passionate way. Who else would plant 32 types of carrot to see which was the best for puréeing, boiling, roasting etc. He is amazing and what is also wonderful is that his staff stay with him for many years, at least of two of his main staff have been with him for over 20 years which says an awful lot about how he must bring his staff along with him.

I don’t do green, I don’t do gardens, he very kindly let Julie Walker, our Horticulturist from West Berkshire Mencap, take part in the first visit. She would so love to do the garden tour. There were leaves that tasted of oysters!!! The microherbs were amazing. Ann-Marie the gardener was something else. So knowledgeable and so loyal, she has been with him for decades which says so much. I am so bad at gardens but was inspired by the wonderfulness of what I saw. RB please can I send Julie along to see the gardens?

There were a small group of local media people who had been invited to this event which was hosted by the delightfully well-mannered General Manger, Philip Newman-Hall (PNH) who has also been with RB for decades. We were greeted by very welcoming staff with a glass of champagne and olives while we waited for Monsieur Blanc to come and have a chat with us. This will be on Kennet Radio later when it has been edited and there is a lot to edit from!

We heard about RB’s plans for the future which include a gardening and cookery school, his love of heritage vegetables and rare breed animals. He was excited about the fact that things are now turning round and almost extinct breeds are being brought back including pigs and apples (how ironic). He also impressed the fact that good food and good health are so entwined and should be part of our ethos of life, he is very keen on the local community developing and has a healthy respect for families.

Now onto food. We were served canapes which included home grown radishes filled with creme fraiche although I could be wrong on that. Also the most exquisite little arancini, rice balls filled with creamy loveliness. We were also served rare beef on a crispy base of ficelle (thank you Paul Canning for the info) and incredibly fresh tuna.

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We were then served watercress soup with roasted Scottish scallops, just assume from now on that everything was perfectly cooked and the flavours married together perfectly.

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With this we had the most amazing choice of different breads, I chose a bacon bread which was delicious but managed to throw it across onto the floor along with the knife (I was learning waving arm gestures from RB) and Mr Newman-Hall did the most amazing tiny nod across to one of the waiting staff who subtly replaced everything with the least embarrassment possible. I then had a wonderful sun dried tomato slice of bread.

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Next came warm-oak smoked salmon, horseradish and cucumber which is no description of what was a vision of delight and even tastier.

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Following this was a risotto of spring vegetables with a chervil cream. The menu doesnt describe the amazing tomatoey flavour of the risotto which had been cooked in a reduced tomato sauce and was zingy and full of spring.

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Ok here is the surprise, I was actually feeling quite full now which you know is unheard of. Our penultimate course was the moistest poached chicken I have ever had with asparagus, smoky mash and a vessie sauce, with wild mushrooms.

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Finally, for me, we were served the most beautiful garden rhubarb and strawberry soft meringue with Tahiti Vanilla. This was absolutely perfect.

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The atmosphere was stunning, the gardens are incredible, the service was out of this world and I would advise everyone to start a Maison pot to save up to go there. Tragically I missed out on the petits fours et chocolats du Manoir which has devastated me because I bet they were superb as well. Please go, please look at their web site and please have the best time of your life.

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