It's not every day you get to eat a banquet by Raymond Blanc. Still less, one served in a giant tent in the middle of an Oxfordshire field. But at the Wilderness festival, where men cavorted in sequinned bodysuits and women sported floral headdresses like so many peacocks, this was the kind of feast you could expect.
We took our seats at long trestle tables under the canvas: it was almost like being at someone's wedding, without the speeches and the embarrassing uncle. With military precision, wave after wave of waiting staff marched out, ferrying plates of perfect food. First, a deceptively simple looking 'essence of tomato', in a tiny teacup with a charred tomato on the side, a burst of astonishingly bright flavour. Then the banquet proper. Platters of crusty bread rolls, made that morning, with bowls of salads and slices of terrine: there was remoulade and beetroot with sour cream, and pickled strips of fennel and carrot, and huge bulbs of roasted garlic, soft and sweet. It spoke of the French countryside, of generosity and family: it would have made the perfect picnic.
Except, of course, there was more. Away went the now empty platters and in came huge oval dishes: hay smoked lamb, a warm spiced barley risotto, bright with carrots, bowls of chard and peas a la Française. It was help-yourself time: we hardly needed the invitation to come back for more. It was like the Sunday lunch you always wished for.
Back in the kitchen, hotter than the fiercest oven, teams of chefs were plating up the dessert, Monsieur Blanc himself checking every single one before it made it to the pass. A bowl of summer: soft meringue, strawberry sorbet, marshmallows and basil jelly, and fresh strawberries so intense they danced on the tongue. Quite some feat to serve everyone before it all melted: no wonder that when Raymond Blanc finally emerged, the room erupted in cheers.