I always enjoy going home, however my most recent trip was special, not only did I get to see my parents, I had the opportunity to cook with chefs that I have followed and admired for many years.
The trip began as I met my parents at the airport and we made the trip into London together. With Mum hammering me questions one after the other, my Dad and Mum’s proud smiles as my name was announced on TV and the best “Fish & Chips” ever at Borough Market, my arrival was a success.
The next day the whirlwind began. As I walked into the lobby I was approached with a white Relais & Chateaux chef jacket, then I saw it…my face on the side of a double decker bus! True to form I went straight to someone I knew, Chef Patrick O’Connell from The Inn at Little Washington who informed me that the photos being taken were just the beginning.
On the buses we traveled to Claude Bosi’s Gastro Pub The Malt House for brunch. This is where I saw chefs that I had only read about. I must have thought over how to introduce myself to these chefs time and time again. Following with a boat trip down The Thames, I met Chef Raymond Blanc. He may quite possibly be one of the most passionate and intriguing individuals I have ever met. After talking with a lot of chefs, such a talented and diverse group of individuals, I was at ease.
The next morning had an early start. We caught a train out to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. Upon our arrival Chef Raymond Blanc welcomed everyone at the gates. So many years reading and hearing about this property and this chef…and there I was, being welcomed by him. Chef Michael Caines and I got on very well (as we were both from the West Country) and he gave me a behind the scenes tour.
It was an amazing experience. While immersed in my thoughts, I was interrupted when I heard in a French accent “Chef, do you have a few minutes for some questions I am from Vanity Fair Paris.” Words cannot describe the magnitude of this day and the feeling that it made me feel; just the amount of press and companies associated with Relais & Chateaux is crazy.
The whole day at Le Manoir was based on English produce, there were lots of vendors, displays, and this is where I tasted my new favorite English bubbles called “Nyetimber.” After uncountable photo shoots and inspiring conversations we got back on the bus where the entire staff of Le Manoir lined the driveway as we made the journey to Old Billingsgate and enjoyed a well needed power nap.
When we arrived my eyes were the size of golf balls – then it hit me, in three hours this place will be packed – then it is game on. We quickly divided up to see the pods where we would be cooking, each slightly elevated to provide the 40 guests in each pod a clear view of their cooks. I was a little nervous until I found my ingredients and then quickly relieved that they made the trip safely. After the last finishing touches of my dish, I quickly tracked down a glass of Champagne to help calm my nerves. Well dressed guests ready to be fed and 7pm soon arrived. My station was locked and loaded, and I was off to the meeting place ready to be announced.
It is always the little things that you forget – hence the text message I received from Fearrington’s GM sitting in the crowd, a reminder to fold my apron down. The speeches began from the president of R&C and Raymond Blanc, the lights went out, my nerves hit me like a freight train – and we walked into the spot lights of our stations. It was unbelievable, and quite honesty the second most memorable walk I have ever done down a set of stairs, the first being collecting the Grand Chef award in Torino. Both times I was just merely thinking “do not fall over, do not fall over.”
This has been quite the experience who would of thought four years after taking over the helm at Fearrington it would have lead to all this, not only have I met all new people that are now friends but one of the best things is that people actually remember who I am without having to introduce myself. It was an event that I will never forget after meeting all these great chefs I plan on bringing them to Fearrington to start and guest chef series.