There are things in life that I dream of doing, some of those dreams may even come true, but some of them I'm resigned to the fact that they are just that 'dreams'. But every once in a while, something magical happens and one of those dreams has the chance to become reality!
So when an email from the fabulous people at John Lewis and Kenwood landed in my inbox inviting me to the launch of the new Kenwood Chef Sense at Le Manoir, I couldn't keep my phone still in my shaking hands long enough to read it properly. A few shakes later, I'd managed to take note of the date and time and speed walk across the office to make sure I could book the time off work.
Last year I'd packed myself off for a birthday treat and joined some fantastic people at The Raymond Blanc Cookery school for the day-long Patisserie course. I fell in love with the hotel, the people, the food, the atmosphere... well everything; and I'd been dreaming of going back ever since. So off I set to join a small and select group of lovely ladies; Penny, Caroline, Tara and Becky!
As I pulled up to Le Manoir the nervous butterflies started again, I knew we would be putting the new Chef Sense to the test but that was about it. Would we be expected to put our food blogger credentials to the test and just whip something up or would we be creating beautiful and delicate plates worthly of Le Manoir. But as I walked up the lavender lined path past the croquet lane and the to main hotel, any fears melted away; my heart was once again captivated by one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
As always, the reception at Le Manoir is warm and friendly, I just love it. Everyone says hello as you pass them, nothing is any trouble; this is why Le Manoir always hits the top spots. In typical Louise-style I was early, and so was shown through to one of the lounges, complete with a roaring fire taking away the last of the rainy thoughts of the day, coffee arrived and some of the famed Le Manoir lemon cake; that we'd also learnt to create on the Patisserie course. I sat taking in the wonder of my surroundings as my fellow ladies arrived and we were introduced to the gentlemen from Kenwood. When we were all together, delicious canapés accompanied champagne toasts to a wonderful evening, and all was revealed...
Kenwood and Raymond Blanc have worked together for many years, and I remembered it was the Kenwood Chef that we'd used on the patisserie course, and Raymond's love of the 'perfectly executed' Kenwood spatula. So it seemed fitting that the launch of the Chef Sense was taking place at Le Manoir. What I wasn't expecting was that it was Raymond himself who we would be spending the evening with, along Adam Johnson, Raymond's Development Chef aka Adaam (for those who have watched Raymond's BBC series') and the fabulous Mark Peregrine, who heads up the Raymond Blanc Cookery School, and took me through the world of patisseries when I was last there. It is fair to say that we were all a little speechless and incredibly excited; a fabulous new Chef Sense to put through the paces and one of the most amazing Chefs on the planet! Bursting with excitement was an understatement... I was up there on Cloud Nine, Ten and Eleven!
As the light was fading and the inclement weather threatening again, we headed out into Le Manoir's gardens. The gardens were just starting to turn to their riotous autumnal colours, and abundant with seasonal crops. As cameras came out, and we were settling in to our little tour, the whirlwind of Monsieur Blanc came bounding across to us, with proclamations of "So how do you like the gardens?". Without chance to reply, Raymond started to tell us about the history of the gardens, his inspirations and visions. His love and dedication shone through, and you couldn't help but be captivated by his stories and passion. Words really can't describe how it felt to just stand there and listen to him, there is no denying that Raymond lives, breathes and dreams Le Manoir every single second of his living days. It's incredible!
So when we'd all picked our jaws up off the floor, Raymond and Mark led us around the garden, pointing out new and exciting things, the labours of love of Le Manoir's Garden Team and the visions for the future. It was nearly a year since I was last roaming the wonderful gardens, and there was so much that I hadn't seen before, and admittedly I was so enthralled that I forgot to whip the camera back out. We could have stayed there all night, talking gardens, vegetables, plans and things but there was pressing matters to attend to... the Chef Sense!
We headed back over to the Cookery School and readied ourselves to be put to test by Monsieur Blanc. Nestled amongst the back kitchens of the hotel, we were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of evening service, and kitted out in our Raymond Blanc Cookery School Chef's Whites, the order of our evening was a delectable feast of sweet and savoury creations all created with the Kenwood Chef Sense. I actually felt really quite relaxed sat there, the kitchen was familiar, my culinary companions were fabulous, champagne was flowing and the infectious passion of Raymond's was everywhere.
Well then, let's get started!
Taking centre stage, and with us all transfixed, Raymond told us about his love for the Kenwood, talking us through all the new fantastic features of the Chef Sense and starting us off with a Chocolate Reverse Crumble. I swear all of us were perched on the edge of our seats, noses in the air inhaling the chocolate scent, completely engrossed in every single thing Raymond said - the importance of amazing ingredients and treating them with tender love and care - "it's the warm fuzzies, not the cold pricklies". But to be honest, Raymond and Kenwood both had me at "the cover guard goes all the way to the back and seals the bowl". Oh helloo! Anyone with a stand mixer with a cover guard that has a gapping hole at the back knows about the 'joys' of icing sugar dust clouds when making buttercream, this might have sold the Chef Sense to me in one easy step! Anyway back to the Crumble...
It was now our turn to try our the Chef Sense and our hands at the creation that we'd just witnessed one of the World's Best Chefs create. Gulp! The fabulous Becky from English Mum and I paired up, and amidst a fit of giggles and clouds of cocoa powder we managed to pull off two pretty damn good Chocolate Reverse Crumbles, if we do say so ourselves... helped a little along the way by Monsieur Blanc, who might have come to our rescue with a laugh, a smile and a cocoa powdered hand on the back of a pure white Chefs jacket. Seriously, I was rapidly ascending to Cloud 20 and not stopping at 'Go'.
Taking some time out, it came the turn of Adam and who talked us through using the Chef Sense to prepare dough for Babas with a touch of Kirsch. And if you were ever thinking that Raymond's passion was something just for him; you'd be wrong. It was plain to see that working with Raymond for so many years, Adam was just as passionate and that they were completely in tune with each other. What a
working relationship friendship to have!
All the time we're either trying our the Chef Sense or engrossed in what our wonderful Hosts have to say, our champagne glasses are being kept topped up, the mess that we are honestly making is being cleared away, our work areas are cleaned down and our own creations are having an exacting eye kept on them, so we don't forget that we've got something baking away in the oven. A well-polished and honed team, everything that you would expect from one of the most wonderful hotels in the World.
Getting back to the baking, it's time to crack on with some pastry and... dah dah daaahh... my nemesis: soufflé. Eeek! But never fear, teamed up with Becky again and with a fool-proof Le Manoir recipe, we couldn't go wrong. Putting the Chef Sense back to work again, it made quick work of the pastry that we would be lining a tart ring with, and picking up a few secret tips from Adam on how to perfectly roll out your pastry, we banged that straight in the Gaggenau (I still have massive oven envy). On to the soufflé *gulp*!
It is fair to say that the giggles had really got to us in Becky's and my kitchen area, it is also fair to say that we 'did' follow the recipe, but it is also fair to say that we might have not done something for as long as we were meant too, it's also very fair to say that Adam is incredibly patient when faced with 2 giggling women, one of whom can't get the cheese in the saucepan without spilling it *blush* and finally that if you follow the recipe you will get the most amazing soufflé for your tart, but also if you 'sort of' follow the recipe you'll get a pretty good soufflé tart as well.
Whilst the evening is disappearing away before our eyes, the creations are in and out of the oven, the laughter resounds around the Cookery School and evening service is coming to a close, the Chef Sense never once fails to impress, and with all of that it's sadly time to say 'adieu'. Back up the lavender lined path with the lights of lounge glimmering in the distance, I had to pinch myself to make sure what I'd just experienced was not a dream. Trust me, it wasn't!
I arrived home completely buzzing, the hugest smile on my face, and I'm telling you it took a long time to disappear; I must of been permanently grinning for days. Once again, the beauty of Le Manoir, the passion of everyone at Le Manoir and the Cookery School, and the inspiration of one of my Food Heroes gave me the most ultimate experience that will never ever ever leave me. Although there's a tonne of words above, I can really not begin to describe that feeling deep inside. Thank you, you know who you are!
If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know that I have a variety of kitchen equipment but sadly not a Kenwood. I'd always been firmly in 'the other' camp, but after seeing and using the Chef Sense, I'm on my way to converting. *cough* Christmas List *cough*. Friends and family swear by their 'Kens', and I had the opportunity to try out an Old School Ken back in the summer when staying with friends, I was smitten then and more than smitten now. The motor is strong but relatively quiet for a mixer, the touch controls are perfect when you're covered in flour, sugar and butter, the attachments fit perfectly to the bowl (there's no need for a 'fin beater blade', these are precision engineered so everything is incorporated.. no scrapping down), it's the right weight to not go walking all over your walk surface and it's a nice size to sit on it too, and let's not forget that completely covering cover guard. Plus it comes with the reassurance that Monsieur Blanc and the Cookery School Team think it's pretty darn special too!
The Kenwood Chef Sense is available exclusively to John Lewis in store or online, retailing at £449.95. With huge thanks to Raymond Blanc, Adam Johnson, Mark Peregrine, John Lewis and Kenwood for inviting me to the launch of the Kenwood Chef Sense.
For further information about Le Manoir and the Raymond Blanc Cookery School:
Website - www.manoir.com
Oxford OX44 7PD
01844 278 881