The heat is on

Chefs have a complex relationship with heat…  Too much and the food burns, too little and nothing ever cooks.  A few degrees out and a dish can go horribly wrong – especially true when tempering chocolate or taking sugar syrup to the right stage, but also the difference between deliciously pink or overdone meat.  The source is also highly important (most cooks prefer gas, but I’ve been forced to convert to induction hobs here and they’re slowly seducing me, especially when it comes to cleaning).  A powerful fridge-freezer not only preserves our food, no matter how hot it is outside, but it can save a pastry dough that needs rapid chilling or set the perfect sorbet for that evening’s meal.

But the most interesting effect of the heat here isn’t on the food… it’s on the people.  The sun is high, the days are long, the evenings are balmy and our guests visibly start to relax and glow as the sunshine takes hold.  Given half a chance, I tend to gravitate towards a patch of sunlight, stretch out and read, my basking punctuated by a few lengths in the pool.  But the deeper we get into summer, the more guests come and therefore the more mouths there are to feed…  so in the kitchen I must stay.  “Hot” doesn’t even come close to describing the Manoir kitchen midway through service on a busy July night.  Foie gras slides, salads wilt, the flies go crazy and ice cream doesn’t just melt, it disintegrates if left out of the freezer for longer than a minute…  Only when service is over do we stop, exhausted, panting, a bewildered look and hopefully a satisfied smile on our faces.  I half-stumble, half-fall out of the kitchen – usually straight into the pool, which has become my sanctuary, especially when tempers rise along with the mercury.  We’re now mid-way through the season – nerves are frayed, sleep is scarce and cabin fever is setting in.  Tough, but only natural in a team of just four people striving to provide perfect service whilst working and living in such close proximity to one another, with no time and little opportunity for a life beyond these walls.










Thankfully, though I may not have much time to get out into the world (although I did manage two speedy trips back to the UK for weddings), occasionally it comes to me.  My latest visitors were Pete and Maggie, who made it to Raynaudes for a couple of days in the middle of their European extravaganza.  Having come all the way from San Francisco, I did my best to ensure that they saw the majestic cathedral in Albi, the castle in Najac and the ramparts in Cordes – yet I swear that Pete took most of his photos when I snuck him into the kitchen…

The guests have been particularly entertaining lately.  Although they don’t have to sing for their supper, they seem more than happy to, with Orlando accompanying anyone game enough on the piano, be it to “Cabaret”, “The Boyfriend”, Abba or “The Sound of Music”.  The high camp continued with the arrival of Peter’s youngest son, Andrew, whose stay happily coincided with his father’s birthday and Bastille Day, which of course necessitated Champagne, candlelight, poetry reading, dancing and skinny dipping.  Not sure that our noisy renditions of Julie Andrews’ songs at 1am in the depths of the garden were quite so necessary, though…