There are few better tutors in the kitchen than Raymond Blanc OBE.
His passion and enthusiasm for the industry continues to show no sign of waning, with his world-renowned Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons restaurant retaining its two Michelin stars, while the chef continues to be a draw for culinary enthusiasts at the biggest UK events.
Blanc, who lent his name to dining experiences at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and Royal Ascot 2017, has this year continued his work with the famous racecourse by taking one of its leading chefs under his wing.
The Ascot Academy has partnered with Blanc with the aim of which is to ensure that the service in each of Ascot’s restaurants is as good as it can possibly be.
Blanc currently advises on many aspects of the fine dining offering in the Panoramic Restaurant at Ascot Racecourse, including menu design, staff training and service standards.
This year Ascot chef Matt Shipley will join the Chef Scholarship Programme as Blanc’s apprentice for its inaugural year. This involves one-on-one training demonstrations, cooking at Le Manoir and working alongside the famous chef at each of the five race days at the Royal Ascot.
“His passion and ethos towards food motivates and encourages me to continue to improve myself, taking every opportunity that comes my way and giving it 110%,” says Shipley, who started his career working for the events team within the Sodexo sports and leisure segment.
“He has so much knowledge and experience that I can learn from and being such an extrovert he always provides some entertainment in the kitchen.”
Prior to joining Ascot as a sous chef, Shipley assisted with the management of logistics, stock control and distribution of all kitchen equipment, disposables and stock for some of the UK’s largest cultural events including The Open in golf, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and 2015 Rugby World Cup.
On moving to Ascot, Shipley worked closely with Ben Dutson, who at the time was head chef for the events sector.
During his time in the events team Shipley was described as showing “culinary potential when having to support the chef team, jumping in at the deep end and immersing himself in food preparation and assisting with the restaurants”.
Following Dutson’s appointment as full-time head chef at Ascot Racecourse, Shipley joined soon after and is now working with Blanc on training days at Le Manoir and has a supporting role in the Raymond Blanc summer events schedule, which includes the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot and QIPCO British Champions Day.
Shipley, who is already well into his year-long scholarship programme, was amazed at the level of knowledge and speed that Blanc works at when creating dishes and menu ideas. He told us some of the special moments so far.
“The Royal Ascot tasting was a great experience as we had to make lots of changes on the day,” he says. “It was great to see the speed that Raymond can work at. It was brilliant to watch his ideas come to life on the plate. If we weren’t happy with one of the elements we would alter the dish, constantly striving for culinary perfection.”
As with catering at many sporting events, Royal Ascot has its challenges for kitchen staff to undertake, and Shipley says he has been learning just how to face these tests.
“Royal Ascot is very different to how a normal restaurant works,” he explains. “The guests interact differently to how they would in a restaurant and the timings are very different. We have to work in line with the race times, and this can delay service or require us to work at a higher intensity.
“Raymond and his team are great to work with, we plan every detail before they arrive to make sure we have all the correct equipment and ingredients. We spend a lot of time together other than the Royal Meeting and get to know each other well, playing off each others’ strengths. I have been very lucky to learn as much as I have from the Raymond team, along with my executive and head chef, Gemma Amor and Ben Dutson, respectively.”
The scheme, which will offer Shipley full endorsement from Raymond Blanc and the experience of working at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant on completion, has been praised by the chef, who is relatively new to the role.
“It’s a great opportunity especially for someone who is new to the industry,” says Shipley. “I have come a long way in a short space of time and I have had to learn on the job at an accelerated rate – this experience has only improved my development.”
The training and insight of working with Blanc, Shipley says, is key to helping younger chefs develop and he believes that more guest chefs should help mature a new generation of event caterers.
“Due to the events schedule being so demanding, sometimes the development process can be fragmented as we constantly have to think of our next move,” he says. “It is great to spend time with someone as experienced as Raymond because he has been able to develop and showcase his ethos for decades – his commitment is a great example of how successful you can become.
“This is a great opportunity and the experience is priceless. I think the plan is to continue the programme and hopefully we can continue to develop our up-and-coming chefs.”
So, what does the future hold for Shipley?
“I still have lots to learn,” he says. “Gemma and Ben have given me brilliant support and guidance, I can’t thank them enough. They have given me lots of opportunities so far and long may it continue. With Ascot Racecourse and Raymond Blanc supporting me, I am excited about the future.”
This year Ascot will be presenting a gastronomical experience that will showcase the very best of British, with menus filled with local suppliers’ freshest and most sustainable produce.
The Ascot private boxes menu will feature the finest rainbow trout from the world famous ‘gin-clear’ Hampshire chalk stream. The Chalk Stream gives the trout a distinct flavour with this species known to be the richest and tastiest in the UK due to its habitat.
The Parade Ring Restaurant will bestow a selection of British seafood, including Scottish langoustines from the seas of the north-west highlands.
There are also hand-dived Orkney Island scallops, renowned for their melt in the mouth white flesh, while Scottish Atlantic halibut will complete the seafood trifecta.
The Halibut are native of The Highland Isle of Gigha, where they are hand-reared on an organic diet.
Halibut growing in this way has no adverse effects on the surrounding marine environment and places no pressure on global fisheries.
Ascot uses Wagyu beef to promote agriculture for the public benefit by encouraging, promoting and improving the breeding of Wagyu cattle in the UK.
The finale of the Parade Ring Restaurant menu will conclude with classic British desserts, each holding an element of surprise – this will include a modern twist on the retro classic Black Forrest gateau, a delicious repast of rich chocolate sponge layered with lashings of whipped cream and fresh cherries before being laced with kirsch.
Guests will be able to taste the exclusive Ascot-crafted cheese Duttamore.
Duttamore has paired a Somerset artisan-style production method using the finest ewe’s milk to create a sweet and nutty flavour. The cheese is washed with rind and then aged for three months and has medium mellow flavour.
The Royal Estate produces pork sausages where pigs are reared outside during the summer months.
Highgrove Estate is the chosen condiment supplier, neighbouring Highgrove House near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, which is The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall’s family home. The Estate produces British jams.