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February 14, 2024

Luke Selby on his Homecoming to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

Raymond Blanc’s protégé talks taking over the kitchen at the iconic country house restaurant.

By Irenie Forshaw

For Luke Selby, returning to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons after 14 years felt like a homecoming of sorts. “There’s a certain magic when you walk down that lavender path,” he tells me with a smile over video call from the upstairs office at Raymond Blanc’s storied restaurant in the depths of the Oxfordshire countryside. “It’s a very special place.”

In January last year, Selby was appointed as the new executive head chef at Le Manoir, with his younger brothers, Nat and Theo, joining as his trusted sous chefs. Taking over the kitchen came with enormous pressure; when he returned, the restaurant had held two Michelin stars since Blanc opened it way back in 1984. But Selby relished the challenge: last week the eatery retained its two stars for the fortieth consecutive year (for the last four years Le Manoir has also held a Green Michelin Star thanks to Blanc’s unwavering dedication to seasonality and sustainability).

I ask Selby how he coped with the mammoth expectations. “I didn’t really worry about it,” he grins. “I was relieved we didn’t lose a star, otherwise I’d probably be looking for another job…” he trails off with a chuckle. “Raymond was confident, but you never know what might happen.”

[See also: Mark Donald on Whisky, Foraging and Tattie Scones]

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside / ©Belmond

The 33-year-old chef is remarkably jovial and calm: an unusual combination in the highly-strung world of fine dining. He’s also down-to-earth and instantly likable. Despite a glittering career in some of the planet’s most esteemed kitchens, it’s clear the success hasn’t gone to his head. He seems to have boundless energy and passion for his craft; at the start of our call, Le Manoir’s head of marketing, Julia, pokes her head around the corner to warn me, “He’s not very good at sitting still so good luck!”. She’s right: he doesn’t stop fidgeting in his chair throughout our conversation. It’s as if he’s itching to get back to the kitchen.

Selby first walked through the doors at Le Manoir over a decade ago. Born in Saudi Arabia to a Filipino mother and English father, he moved to leafy West Sussex when he was five and grew up foraging and fishing in the South Downs near his childhood home. Cooking had always been something he excelled at and while at school he won a competition judged by none other than Blanc. “Raymond turned up for the final and I was just starstruck to see him tasting my dishes,” he recalls.

With his A-levels in tow, Selby joined Le Manoir as a commis chef in 2009. “On my first day, I was in the car park walking to the kitchen when Raymond grabbed me,” remembers Selby. “He said, ‘There’s everything here for you to learn that will put you in good stead for the rest of your life.’ It’s true. It was an amazing experience. He was always around; always guiding and encouraging young chefs.”

le manoir aux quat'saisons dishes
Luke Selby works closely with Raymond Blanc and the garden team at Le Manoir / ©Belmond

Over the next six years, he steadily climbed his way up through the ranks to become sous chef – his brothers also joined Le Manoir taking on junior roles – before leaving to work under Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. In 2016, Selby took a job with Ollie Dabbous at his eponymous restaurant in Fitzrovia, soon rising to become head chef. During this time, he won the prestigious Roux Scholarship and traveled to Japan for a stage at the three-Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo.  

“I really wanted to do something that would push me completely out of my comfort zone,” he tells me. “[Japan] was totally different from anything I had experienced before… it was at the opposite end of the scale from the classic French cuisine I trained in.”

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On his return to London, he secured a head chef role as part of the opening team at Dabbous’s new Mayfair restaurant – Hide – which scooped its first Michelin star within six months of opening. Eager to set out on his own path, Selby left Hide in 2019 and, together with his brothers, took over Evelyn’s Table – an intimate 12-seater counter restaurant set within a former beer cellar on the edge of Chinatown in Soho. It wasn’t long before his inventive menu captured the attention of the inspectors once again; in 2022 Selby and his brothers won a star of their own and were jointly bestowed with Michelin’s young chef of the year award.

[See also: Sarah Hayward on Winning Michelin’s Young Chef Award]

luke selby and raymond blanc
Luke Selby with his mentor Raymond Blanc / ©Belmond

When Blanc came to dine at Evelyn’s Table and invited Selby for lunch, the young chef thought little of it. They had stayed in touch over the years since his time at Le Manoir and he assumed Blanc just wanted to catch up. “We had a very long lunch and a lot of espressos,” Selby recalls. “And then he asked me if I’d be interested in coming back…”

Things moved quickly. After discussing the opportunity with Theo and Nat, the brothers decided to return to Le Manoir together. Today, Luke oversees a brigade of around 65 chefs. It’s a far cry from the cramped quarters at Evelyn’s where the entire team comprised of the three Selby brothers and a kitchen porter.

Sharing this journey, Selby tells me, has been an amazing experience. I ask what it’s like working day in, day out with his brothers. Do they bicker in the kitchen? “We have disagreements every now and then, but I don’t think high stress is conducive to working at the highest level,” he says. “Above all, we have a really strong connection… I’ve worked with them for almost 10 years. They know exactly what my palate is like and the standards I set. I’m very lucky: they support me massively every day.”

[See also: Michelin Unveils Great Britain and Ireland Guide for 2024]

le manoir courgette flower dish
Each week Luke Selby meets with the garden team to find out what vegetables are coming into season / ©Belmond

Selby loves being back in the Oxfordshire countryside, working at the picturesque country house with its sprawling vegetable garden. Blanc is always on hand for advice; the two chefs work closely together each day. “When I have an idea to change a dish we talk about it,” he explains. “Raymond has the most incredible palate, so I always run tastings past him to make sure it’s perfect before it goes on the menu. I don’t think he’ll ever slow down… if I’m like him when I’m 74 I’ll be very happy.”

Each week, Selby meets with the garden team to find out what vegetables are coming into season (Brussels sprouts, salsify and scorzonera are among the treasures ready for picking at the moment). Dishes on the ever-changing menu are carefully built around the produce before being tasted by the sommeliers and matched with the perfect wine pairings.

Currently, the team is in the process of revisiting some of Blanc’s classic dishes and updating them with a modern touch to celebrate Le Manoir’s 40th anniversary. There’s also space for Selby to embrace his creative freedom; he tells me about a recent dish he added to the menu crafted around Cornish mackerel. The fillets are pin boned and cured in rice vinegar before being lightly torched and served in a bowl with a purée made from apples grown in Le Manoir’s orchards, a drizzle of dill oil and a refreshing horseradish and yogurt sorbet. “It’s that classic flavor combination of apple, horseradish and mackerel but with my own twist using Japanese techniques and super modern presentation,” he says proudly.

le manoir mackerel dish
The mackerel, apple and horseradish dish / ©Belmond

He’s also been working with Blanc to streamline kitchen practices so that most of the chefs at Le Manoir have three days off a week. I tell him it’s refreshing to hear him talking about work/ life balance in this way given the industry’s notoriously grueling hours. Some chefs, I say, still seem to think the punishing working culture is essential for reaching the highest levels.

For the first time in our conversation, Selby’s laid-back demeanor vanishes. “It doesn’t need to be like that,” he says, without missing a beat. “You can’t treat people the way you were treated. That’s something we’ve changed and we’re super proud of. Raymond wants this place to be somewhere you would send your children to train to become a chef.” Besides, he continues, this year they had the best staff retention that Le Manoir has ever had with a waiting list of over 25 chefs wanting to work there. “Amidst this staffing crisis, everyone in the industry keeps talking about, we’re in a very fortunate position.”

There’s just time to ask whether he wants to open his own restaurant one day. But Selby’s sights are set firmly on the task at hand. “We’ve made lots of amazing changes in the kitchen over the past year,” he tells me as his eyes light up. “I just really want to push forward and build Le Manoir to be the best it can be.”

belmond.com

[See also: Yannick Alleno on Bringing Pavyllon to London’s Mayfair]

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