Luke Selby is making waves at Le Manoir

04 May 2023 by

Since his arrival as head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Luke Selby has been driving culinary excellence. Here's how his partnership with Raymond Blanc is coming along

"Driven by modernity, rooted in tradition", is how chef patron Raymond Blanc describes the ethos of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, where he holds five red AA stars and has maintained two Michelin stars for more than 30 years.

Although now almost commonplace, Blanc was a pioneer when he launched a restaurant serving classic French cuisine, led by the produce grown in its organically farmed gardens, following the seasons, and putting sustainable, environmentally sound practices at its heart.

Almost 40 years on, as Le Manoir continues to drive innovation in working practices, horticulture and, of course, gastronomy, Blanc has a new lieutenant by his side in Luke Selby, who has returned as executive head chef to the kitchen that gave him his first professional home when he was just 18.

Selby's career has been stellar by any account: in 2014 he was named Young National Chef of the Year, going on to win the senior competition in 2017, just months after returning from a stage at Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo, as part of his Roux Scholarship prize.

Add in being head chef of Ollie Dabbous' Hide Above when it achieved its Michelin star to great acclaim in the 2019 Michelin Guide and going on to win a star for his own restaurant Evelyn's Table, opened with Zoë and Layo Paskin, in the small basement of London Soho pub the Blue Posts.

The position at Le Manoir in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, became vacant in November 2022 when Gary Jones, who Blanc says he is "so grateful to for maintaining the standards for so long", left to "pursue new opportunities" after more than 20 years. For Selby it was the only role that could have diverted him from the path he had set out for himself. And so, at the beginning of January, he arrived with brothers Nathaniel and Theodore, who had been by his side at both Hide and Evelyn's Table, in what he describes as a "homecoming".

He says: "It's a huge opportunity; it's somewhere very close to my heart. I had been very set on where I was going and what I wanted to do with my career and this was the only thing that I would have considered as opposed to doing my own thing.

"It's the ethos, the culture, the RB – to work with him again. It's a very special place, I first came here for a week's work experience when I was 16, so it's always held a special place in my heart."

The RB, as Blanc is affectionately known to the legions of chefs who have travelled through his kitchen, is equally effusive about his new executive head chef, who he had approached after dining at Evelyn's Table. He says: "Luke was chosen because he understands our values. He was part of this for six years and those values are embedded [in him]: caring for staff, proper management, empowering the staff, ensuring the young can grow. These are very much Luke's strengths and he has an ability to somehow just manage and manage very effectively."

Raymond Blanc on new executive head chef Luke Selby

Blanc says Selby has achieved an astonishing amount in his first months in the role, not least overseeing the team's retention of its two Michelin stars and its Green star, in the 2023 Guide, published in March.

On arrival the chef's first area of focus was recruitment and, arguably, it is here he has had the greatest impact to date. When he arrived in January the kitchen was 10 chefs down. Five months on it is fully staffed and has a waiting list of candidates for the fist time in some eight years.

The recruitment success has allowed Selby and Blanc to progress a long-standing ambition to reduce working hours, and 75% of the brigade – all those below the level of junior sous chef – now work a 48-hour week over four days. The goal is to extend this to all senior staff within 18 months and to eventually take everyone to a 40- to 42-hour week.

Additionally, team members are paid for all overtime and everyone is required to take all holiday by the end of the tax year, to ensure they have a proper break from the stove. Blanc says: "You need to create a warm environment and support for a young team. This pandemic has made these young people very fragile, very unsure of themselves, it has created all sorts of trauma. To respond to that we as an industry have to change our management style.

"Any remnants of an autocratic style have to go – the management must use emotional intelligence to support their teams. Every generation says the one below is rubbish, I do not believe this. It is often us who are rubbish and it's up to us to reinvent our industry and provide that support to young people and they will grow into it."

Selby has also transformed working practices within the kitchen. No longer do three senior members of the team stand on the pass during service. In fact, there is no one at the pass, with the chef saying he wanted to "move the talent back into the kitchen".

"I want them to be cooking on the stove and teaching the young chefs", explains Selby. "It never made sense to me that the strongest chefs in the kitchen wouldn't be in the kitchen. "It's about empowering young people, training them properly and giving them the right tools to succeed for themselves. I want to be 100% involved in cooking a section, standing next to the team, doing it with them and training them to do it. That's what Raymond's been a huge advocate of for over 40 years."

Blanc adds: "The sous chefs are in the kitchen and they will become the best mentors, which also makes the emotional and personal ties [within the brigade] stronger. Of course, you get better food out of that. It's a wonderful virtuous circle where, by teaching, you improve yourself and it brings this harmony to the kitchen."

Efficiency and achieving the maximum from resources are essential if the business is to achieve its aim to reduce hours further, and it is something Selby schooled himself in at the 12-cover Evelyn's Table, where he had just three chefs preparing a five-course menu in a seriously confined space.

Accordingly, behind the pass Selby has streamlined operations, for example by creating a single garnish section (where previously there would have been two or three chefs garnishing meat dishes and one chef garnishing fish), and giving his team more responsibility over a dish.

He has also worked with assistant head sommelier Freddie Taylor to introduce new technology to determine the pace of service. Each section now has an iPad to which the front of house team can report when diners will be ready for their next course, providing a more tailored experience and eradicating the risk of dishes sitting under the lamps during service.

What's on the menu at Le Manoir?

On the plate, Selby and Blanc have been poring over the chef patron's canon of dishes, pursuing simplification and purification. Blanc explains: "Simplification is the hardest thing you can do. Simplification is not less, it is more by giving less. We don't want 10 or 15 other pieces that are a distraction to the dish, things that may be cinematically very pretty but do not serve the purpose of creating an extraordinary experience. The experience is about taste and textures, creating flavours that last and transport you to heaven."

The chefs sit down two or three times a fortnight to discuss dishes, often joined by the senior team to brainstorm ideas and plan menus guided by the produce from Le Manoir's extraordinary grounds.

The process can be seen in a dish of stuffed morel, white asparagus and Gewürztraminer, a classic of Blanc's served since the 1980s.

Traditionally Blanc would prepare three morels for the dish, but in its new incarnation a single large morel is filled with "the lightest" chicken mousse served on white asparagus. He says: "You have better taste and texture, it's just as beautiful but simpler to realise. It's heaven. The other one was twice as much work, but now you have more impact, that has all been done with consultation, communication and involving all of the team.

"We're taking my great, classic recipes and loving them better, sharpening them and refreshing them. It's not a change of cuisine, but it brings in Luke's and the team's creativity. It's a huge element of growth for a young team."

Selby adds: "It will always be Le Manoir and Raymond Blanc. I spent six years with him, and I think our style and ethos is very much one and the same. This [process] is about modernising, looking forward, reinterpreting slightly and putting my stamp on as well, which he's very passionate about."

The process has seen spec sheets for dishes reduced from 20 pages to just six, incorporating details of ingredients, cost and wastage to aid the training of the team, both front and back of house. Stories of the provenance and development of the dishes have also been added to encourage conversations and draw the guest into the workings of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, enhancing their visit.

The reworking is set to continue and extend across private dining menus – where the plan is to simplify the offering so covers can be increased from 47 to 50 – always in conversation with the team of gardeners that tend the 27 acres of grounds where 150 varieties of vegetables are grown, each selected by Blanc. Over 40 years the chef has carried out blind taste tests of countless varieties prepared in many different ways to ensure the right produce is grown for the beginning or end of season, for purees, roasting, serving raw and in every other conceivable incarnation (he even once taste tested 40 varieties of chillies in a single day - an exercise he's not keen to repeat).

Selby says: "To have the gardens is something so many chefs would dream of. I walk through the gardens every morning, building that communication, talking about what's coming in, the seasons and how we base the menu on what's being grown.

"At the moment we've been getting baby carrots and baby radishes, it's still quite early but they're bringing about 100 carrots and radishes to the kitchen every morning and we're about to put a dish on using a selection of the spring vegetables from the garden. It's amazing to see them growing and taste them as they grow.

"I have ideas and have been asking the garden team about what we can do – we're letting a lot of the micros grow out so they're more individual and have more flavour and we're also planting lots of wild flowers and different edible flowers. It's such a resource."

Le Manoir to open additional facilities

It's not just in the kitchen where Blanc is pushing forward and an extensive expansion and regeneration process is in the works with owner LVMH, which purchased Belmond for £2.5b in 2018. Planning permission has been granted for a wellness spa, bistro, academy and additional guest accommodation.

Blanc had been formulating the expansion of Le Manoir for many years, and permission for the addition of a spa was denied by South Oxfordshire District Council 10 years ago by one vote – the latest plans gaining approval by the same slim margin last year.

As Blanc eyes expansion his focus, as ever, is on retaining those credentials that 40 years ago were so cutting edge. All building works will be completed to the highest BREEAM standard, with solar panels providing 40% of the energy consumed at Le Manoir alongside the addition of heat pumps and many other sustainable initiatives. The grounds will, of course, remain the heart of the venue and work is under way to create a new orchard entrance (lined, of course, by lavender), seven new gardens, a bee village – designed to provide an engaging educational facility for children complete with castle for the queen bee – and an entirely organic vineyard.

He says: "This will completely change the makeup of Le Manoir. At the moment we have [an average length of stay of] 1.2 days, which is a nightmare for everyone, so the whole point is to make a different environment where we will have a guest staying three to four days, by creating different experiences.

"If you look at what has been done recently with hotels such as the Newt (Somerset) and so on, modern luxury is changing dramatically. You must reinvent, but we must still always follow the values and the heritage of Le Manoir. "Our job now is to ensure we protect the culture and the purity of this place, I tripled the size of Le Manoir 38 years ago, now we are doubling the size over two or three years, it's a tough ask and we must make sure we not just keep our culture but improve it again. As the custodian of Le Manoir my job is to ensure we provide excellence in all areas and are more sustainable, more loving, even better than ever."

Blanc will do this with his "extraordinary" team including Selby, chef pâtissier Benoit Blin, general manager Niall Kingston, food and beverage managers Peter Prusaczyk and Lukas Hyner as well as head gardener Anne Marie Owens. He adds: "I am the happiest chef patron."

Luke Selby's CV

2023-present Head chef, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Oxfordshire

2019-2023 Head chef, Evelyn's Table, Soho, London

2017-2019 Head chef, Hide Above, Mayfair, London

2016-17 Head chef, Dabbous, Fitzrovia, London

2015-2016 Junior sous chef, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea, London

2009-2015 Commis to sous chef, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Oxfordshire

Continue reading

You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking