The SRA field trip to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
As you may have heard by now, as we have been singing it from the rooftops, we have a new President. Raymond Blanc accepted our offer to lead our campaign to make sustainability mainstream in UK restaurants.
Raymond has lived and breathed this way of working for the last 40 years. Yesterday the whole SRA team were lucky enough to see firsthand what four decades of commitment to running a business responsibly really looks like.
Three hours at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is more than enough to convince the most ardent sceptic that Raymond’s way works not only for him but is transferrable to any catering business.
A tour of the kitchens was a genuine eye-opener. The air of calm was palpable, fostered by the years of experience across all levels. We were told that all new chefs are asked for a two and half year commitment – most stay much longer. The walls were an education – posted with incredibly thorough supplier agreements clearly detailing what was being supplied and the standards expected. A large map of the UK was a sea of dots, marking suppliers’ locations. Chefs make frequent visits to many suppliers, establishing or maintaining their excellent relationship. Many on the map have been there since Le Manoir opened.
Concerned about their rising energy costs, the management now post the utility bills on the kitchen wall too and staff are encouraged to think up ways of saving money.
Tom, our kitchen guide, once a chef, now front of house, exuded enthusiasm for every aspect of the business. Tom, like all his colleagues, is given great training opportunities too.
Outside, we were met by Jo, the head vegetable gardener, a dream job any other year than the current washout we’re enduring. The restaurant’s aim is for 30% of its vegetables to be sourced from the hotel’s gardens. Despite the efforts of Jo and her colleagues this has been hard to maintain this desperately wet summer. Very few restaurants have the luxury of a one and half acre plot, yards from the kitchen. But in a greenhouse there are lines of trays of micro herbs all grown 100% organically – like the rest of the produce. Even for restaurants for whom space is at a premium there are always ways and means of growing fresh, cheap, low food miles, delicious items for the menu.
Jo and her colleagues, with inspiration from Raymond, are always coming up with new ideas. Kitchen and garden staff visit each other’s domain on a regular basis, checking on growth, trying new ingredients and tasting dishes– something all restaurants can do with their local suppliers.
Travelling back to London I felt privileged to have had a behind the scenes tour at Le Manoir. Equally, I felt hugely encouraged that the fundamental principles of what Le Manoir does are transferrable to restaurants of all types, whether a two star Michelin restaurant or a corner cafe, Raymond Blanc or Ray White – a rigorous sourcing policy, staff engagement and training and a firm eye on environmental responsibility.