Wednesday, 16 October 2019

School chef spends day in kitchen at top restaurant

School chef spends day in kitchen at top restaurant

A SCHOOL chef from Henley picked up some fresh ideas when she spent a day in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Jill Hall, the kitchen supervisor at Trinity Primary School in Vicarage Road, practised several 
techniques for the first time when she visited Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons at Great Milton.

The 58-year-old was one of two school cooks from Oxfordshire who were chosen to take part under the Host A Chef initiative run by school catering firm LACA.

She says she enjoyed her day and intends to take up the restaurant’s invitation to bring back some pupils for a tour of its herb and vegetable garden.

Mrs Hall, who lives off Peppard Lane, said: “My manager rang me out of the blue and asked ‘how would you like to go to Le Manoir?’ and, to be honest, I’d never heard of it.

“When I told other people about it, they were really excited and asking how I’d managed to get that kind of offer.”

Mrs Hall and Debbie Rice, her counterpart at a school in Kidlington, were greeted by Gary Jones, the restaurant’s executive head chef, before changing into their whites. First they learned how to prepare pigeon for cooking. The birds had been plucked but the women had to behead and gut them and remove the excess fat from under the skin.

Mrs Hall said: “It took a bit of getting used to but it was a good experience. I managed three in half an hour, which I was happy with but it’s not as fast as their butchers can manage.”

The pair then removed petals from geraniums, cornflowers and calendula to garnish desserts, which they had to do slowly to preserve their appearance, and were shown how to slice shallots very thinly. Mrs Hall said the garden tour was her favourite moment as she runs a similar project at the school, where she has worked for about eight years.

She said: “It was amazing because they had fields and greenhouses filled with absolutely everything in season that you could think of. I doubt they have to buy in much of their food.

“Gary kept running off and fetching seeds for me to take home, which was very kind. I can’t remember what they all are but I’m looking forward to planting them and seeing what happens. The school garden is very popular with our children, particularly those in need of some closer attention, so it’ll be an amazing opportunity to bring them to Le Manoir.”

Before leaving, she was invited to watch the kitchen team at work during a dinner service and taste five meals with ingredients including truffle, which she hadn’t eaten before.

She said: “It was a long day but I enjoyed seeing such a high-end restaurant at work and I was made to feel really welcome the whole time I was there.

“I like being able to say I’ve eaten at Le Manoir and it gave me some ideas for my own cooking at home. 

“I obviously have to follow set menus at school but there’s some flexibility and I can try some new things. I’ve already made bread rolls with cheese and garlic which were all taken.

“When I came back to work, I joked with a colleague that I wanted to get 200 pansies in to garnish the puddings. She gave me a very funny look!”

The restaurant and hotel has held two Michelin stars for 35 years. It was founded by French celebrity chef Raymond Blanc.

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