Tuesday 25 April 2017
A visit to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is guaranteed to be special in so many ways. Add Prue Leith into the mix and you have a very special kind of special.
I’m hardly a seasoned celebrity follower. The last bash of this sort which I attended was the University of East Anglia Chinese Society’s New Year Dinner in 1973. But, if I’m honest, that night’s guest speaker, Michael Fish, only attained fame (notoriety?) fourteen years later when an exceptionally violent mid latitude depression hit the UK.
The start of Prue’s celebrity dates to earlier, in 1969, when she opened Leith's, her Michelin-starred restaurant. But let's now discard any gossip and celeb gloss which surrounds her - there is plenty of that, much of it from her own pen - and concentrate on the substance of the person who drew Jan (Mrs Cheoff) and me back to Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons far sooner than planned after our first visit there in September 2016.
Early in the life of this blog I posted an awkward but affectionate tribute to Prue Leith. She introduced herself to each of us in La Belle Époque Conservatory before our meal. No lead piping, rope or candlestick in evidence. Instead, there was a flash from Prue’s spectacle frames, necklace and nail varnish, all providing eye-popping candy colour from a Kaffe Fassett palette. And there was another sparkle which lasted the entire evening. I’m sure Prue’s flashing eyes have been commented on before but the current extra twinkle is easily explained by her recent marriage to John Fairplay. He rounded off the champagne reception by complimenting (“loving”) Jan’s dress and growling at its ribbed and layered textures. I did begin to consider the appropriateness of his reaction. But, quickly recalling that he is a fashion guru and partners one of the second most accomplished women on the planet, I simply accepted his statements as confirmation of his and my good judgement and my wife’s great choice in clothes.
Prue punctuated the rest of the evening with perfectly timed talk before every course of our meal. Perfectly timed by husband John who marked start and finish with a wine glass and cutlery carillon.
Personal history and anecdote entertained us at each ‘interruption’. Having read Prue’s memoir, ‘Relish’, some stories were familiar but much new territory was covered. All led towards the inescapable fact that Prue’s present and long-established passion is that of writing. My previous suggestion that I would read no more than ‘The Gardener’ is now under serious threat after being given a copy of ‘The Food Of Love’. It would be rather impolite to reject a freebie, wouldn't it.
Place names indicating that we would spend the evening sitting right next to Prue and John induced evenly balanced attacks of consternation and delight. I spent a fair part of my time watching and listening to two women for whom I have the hugest admiration as they agreed on the importance of providing good food and good food education to children. Yes, I was involved in the world of teaching but I readily admit that Jan's passion and commitment almost always exceeded mine. Even one seat away, my slightly defective hearing meant that I joined in less than I would have liked. But I did manage to get sound advice from Prue on using our frozen glut of garden produce in pickles and chutneys.
Of course, any chat from Prue about #GBBO was off the menu. But, in the face of all sorts of social media nonsense, allow me to state here that her credentials for judging the nation’s favourite slice of broadcast baking are impeccable. Mary Berry is fabulous. Prue Leith is fabulous. Enjoying one so soon after the other will be fabulous.
GBBO is imminent and I am already preparing to practise restraint in my responses to internet reactions questioning Prue’s suitability as a judge. Why is it that social media is so full of silly arses whose opinions conflict with mine!
Bake Off will have been one large distraction from novel writing. Oh, there was that marriage thing as well! But Prue’s latest book, ‘The Prodigal Daughter’, has very recently appeared in paperback and readers are begging for the trilogy’s conclusion. It is on its way.
Prue has other distractions before that next novel comes out. She still remains active in plenty of other areas.
Recently made patron of #LetsGetCooking for the Children’s Food Trust, she and the venture are seriously tempting me to do some small thing more valuable than simply entertaining family and friends with my kitchen efforts. Aargh... two days after starting this post, universal infant school lunches are under serious threat (#GE2017) Oh dear. Shut up. Really shouldn't be mixing politics with pleasure.
Back to our Great Milton evening for a final word. There was enough time to consider Prue’s assertion that she is currently behaving like a 17-year-old in her 70s... more like a 24-year-old as far as I could see. After forty years of mostly idyllic marriage, I can thoroughly recommend falling in love.
Now, the following words are from Prue and I fall in with them readily - "I think the most important thing in the whole world is love and relationships and if you don't have them, it's quite bad." One obvious and lovely thing which came from our evening was to see how very good life is for Prue. Thank you, John.
No celebrity photos or ‘selfies’ were taken. No autographs were asked for. No pictures of the venue, food or other guests are here. Instead, Jan and I have indelible memories of a hugely enjoyable evening with great food and great people... and a free novel which I solemnly promise to read before putting it on eBay auction.
That’s where I’ll finish. Our feted star guest said that she had never been disappointed by the food at Le Manoir. Yes, Prue was the main course - but you'll find my report on the evening’s other irresistible dishes by linking through a click on the menu below... just as soon as I've written it!
I can’t leave you without putting you out of your misery on one issue.
You think that Prue married the striker who once scored five goals in one international match for England, don’t you. And I’ll admit that I very nearly thought the same when I saw Malcolm Macdonald sporting Newcastle’s strip for next season!