The finishing school for chefs – an interview with Gary Jones and Theo Selby

The finishing school for chefs – an interview with Gary Jones and Theo Selby

by Great British Chefs 21 September 2015

For decades, Raymond Blanc’s iconic two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has trained the country’s top chefs. We caught up with head chef Gary Jones and young commis chef Theo Selby to investigate why those in the industry consider Le Manoir the finishing school for chefs.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

With the release of the 2016 Michelin Guide, the fervent reaction has inevitably focused on the latest restaurants to gain or (whisper) lose stars. Comparatively little of the culinary chit-chat, however, will highlight the influential restaurants and chefs that made it all possible – training and guiding the latest crop of talented chefs along their journey towards Michelin recognition. Remarkably, of the chefs featured on this year’s list, over twenty honed their craft at the same restaurant. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire has an extraordinary track record of training future Michelin-starred chefs: from Marco Pierre White and Nigel Howarth to contemporary stars Bruno Loubet and Ollie Dabbous, Le Manoir has consistently acted as an incubator for culinary excellence.

For the full list of Michelin star chefs who trained through Le Manoir, see here.

Gary Jones

Executive head chef Gary Jones has been at the kitchen’s helm since 1999, his second spell, after leaving the restaurant to take up an Executive Chef teaching role on Richard Branson's Necker Island. Through his leadership and close working relationship with mentor Raymond Blanc, Gary Jones has maintained Le Manoir’s two Michelin stars throughout his tenure at the restaurant – a remarkable achievement.

What did Michelin stars mean to you when you were a commis chef?

They were the measuring stick; you had to earn one to establish yourself as a chef.

What attracted you to working at Le Manoir?

I read Recipes from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons by Raymond Blanc in the late 80s and it blew me away.

What is it about Le Manoir today that has young chefs knocking on the door?

Raymond Blanc is a culinary legend and a national treasure. Raymond is trusted and parents want their sons and daughters to train alongside him. The ethical standards in food, training and development are second to none. We also pride ourselves on providing training that can be tailored to individual needs.

How does it feel to have been a mentor for some of the world’s most talented chefs?

It’s a pleasure to be part of the journey in a young chef’s evolution. We select youngsters with great attitude and a wish to work hard at their chosen craft. It feels fantastic to see their future success, whether it’s an accolade or a restaurant opening. It’s a family thing at Le Manoir. There are proud moments but we have to think about our current team’s development and evolution too.

What is it about Le Manoir that has helped produce so many chefs that have gone on to be awarded Michelin stars?

We focus on great produce, fantastic flavours and step by step training, building confidence and skills. We expect a minimum two-and-a-half year commitment from chefs joining us. During this time they will experience every section of the kitchen. As they work their way up the ladder they will become involved in the evolution of the food. Time is spent working with the gardening team too; it is important to reinforce the seasonality, organic growing, journey from soil to plate and the work of others involved in producing the fantastic ingredients that we use.

What made you decide to return to Le Manoir in 1999? How did Raymond Blanc factor into this decision?

My decision to return was purely down to my respect and loyalty to RB and a massive challenge personally. I had earned Michelin stars in two other restaurants and to head Le Manoir was the biggest challenge I had faced. Raymond Blanc was obviously a key factor in my decision; he is a phenomenal force in the industry and a naturally gifted chef. He wants to give more – more knowledge, more care, more excellence and he truly cares for people as well as food. His guests, of course, but more importantly his team. As I say, it’s a family thing so it was not a difficult choice to focus my energy at Le Manoir alongside Raymond.

You have been commended for your loyalty to Le Manoir and your head chef position. What is it about Le Manoir that has persuaded you to stay in your position and at this restaurant for so long?

It’s the challenge. Every day we will have new guests, new produce and new team members, new challenges. Family is a huge part of my ethos and as well as my Le Manoir family, I have been able to put down roots in Oxfordshire and to raise children and make a home and be part of my community. Chefs tend to move around every three or four years which can be disruptive for the family. I arrived in 1999 with a baby and my eldest has just finished her GCSE’s sixteen years on. I am blessed with a great working environment balanced with a great family life.

Where do you get your food inspiration from?

My food inspiration comes from nature; the gardens at Le Manoir are exceptional and are still evolving. I love the miracle of sowing, growing, nurturing a plant in organic conditions to produce a wonderful flavour. The trick is not to overplay it and keep the ingredients as pure as possible.

How has the food developed in your last few years as head chef?

The food in the last few years has simplified somewhat, ensuring style over substance is never an issue. The ingredient is the star and we strive to execute a perfect dish to the best of our ability.

Le Manoir is one of the largest and busiest Michelin-starred restaurants in Britain serving 260 guests daily. What is the secret to maintaining your standards of consistency at such a busy restaurant?

Anything consistent requires discipline, knowledge, balance and practice to ensure everybody plays their part in the orchestration. My senior team are the next Michelin chefs and have many years’ experience and knowledge. They know what Raymond and myself expect, they know what our guests expect and we work hard together to reach the standards everyday. We eat the food we serve and analyse when an ingredient is perfect. Nature will present the next seasonal product and we follow the season.

What challenges have you faced running such a large brigade of chefs?

Challenges are constant and varied. New team members must be inducted quickly and smoothly, supported through the early months until they find their rhythm. Settling early with support and guidance is essential, early mistakes are rectified quickly to ensure efficiency and consistently smooth delivery. We cover health and safety, allergies, the FSA, training and development, dish development, competitions, section changes and rotation.

What are your three favourite Michelin-starred restaurants?

Laguiole, Michel Bras

Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz

Monaco, Alain Ducasse

It’s a pleasure to be part of the journey in a young chef’s evolution. We select youngsters with great attitude and a wish to work hard at their chosen craft.

Gary Jones

Theo Selby

Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and raised by his Filipino mother, Theo Selby has a range of culinary influences to draw from. Theo first joined Le Manoir in 2012 through an apprenticeship scheme. Clearly impressing Head Chef Gary Jones, Theo has worked his way up to his current position of Commis Chef and is a former winner of the Academy of Culinary Arts’ Annual Award of Excellence.

What's your first food memory?

The main food that stands out from my childhood is eating Filipino cuisine from a young age, mainly consisting of dried fish, soy sauce and rice. This is due to having a Filipino mother bringing up four young boys while my father worked.

Describe the first kitchen you worked in?

The first kitchen I worked in was The Chardonnay Restaurant in West Sussex. It is a small family-run restaurant serving classic French and international cuisine. This is where I picked up a great base of food knowledge; the kitchen only consisted of four chefs.

What were you expecting before you walked into the kitchens at Le Manoir?

I was expecting a huge jump and challenge from being a young apprentice coming from nowhere with little experience to working in one of the best kitchens in the country.

What attracted you to working at Le Manoir? How did Raymond Blanc factor into this?

Raymond’s ethos of food, the freshness and amazing quality of produce and the training I receive everyday.

What are five things at Le Manoir that inspire you?

Role models – Michelin chefs who have been through Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.


Consistency and standards

Fresh produce from the gardens

Teamwork across the board

What makes a perfect dish?

Clean flavours, well balanced, freshness and quality of produce.

What do you think it is that makes Le Manoir a breeding ground for Michelin-starred chefs?

The training, the standards and responsibilities that makes chefs consistent.

What are your three favourite Michelin-starred restaurants?

Royal Hospital Road, Clare Smyth

The Hand and Flowers, Tom Kerridge

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons!

In your opinion, is success in the restaurant industry defined by Michelin stars? What other factors are involved?

I believe success in this industry is not just defined by stars. There are many places that are underrated in the industry. Michelin only visit these current places a few times a year, the industry is always growing.

What are three cookbooks currently on your shelf?

Best Ever Dishes by Tom Kerridge

Kitchen Secrets by Raymond Blanc

Recipes from a 3 star chef by Gordon Ramsay

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Working in my own restaurant with my brothers, former Manoir Sous Chef Luke Selby (currently at Royal Hospital Road) and Nathaniel Selby currently at Le Manoir, working towards our own three Michelin stars.