Cooking at the Manor

Saturday 29 July 2023

Brenchley Manor

People are always asking me what it was like to live, cook and work at the Manor. I thought I would do a post today  about that experience in my life. To be honest, it was, to a humble girl from a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada,  a bit of a dream come true!

When I was a child I used to dream of one day living in a pretty cottage in the English countryside, but I never ever thought that this would be a dream of mine that would come true.   When I moved over to the UK in 2000 that dream came a little bit closer to coming true for sure, but it still seemed to be pretty remote to someone like me.

I decided to go to culinary school when I first arrived in the UK. This was something which I had always wanted to do, and the time seemed right. I was an empty nester without any obligations, and so I took the courses I needed to take in order to be able to work in the food industry. I had always been a very good cook, and I had run my own coffee shop at one point in my life, and I had, in fact, worked as a pastry chef (sans training) when I was a very young woman.

Fire Place

After I graduated from Culinary school, I started looking for a job. I did not want to work in a restaurant.  At the age of 46, I  reallyfelt that was too old for the fast pace of restaurant work. Restaurant work is a young person's game.  

There is a magazine in the UK called The Lady.  It is one of the primary places that wealthy people advertise to recruit staff.  I decided that I would try to find a job working for a private school or a family cooking on a much simpler and easier pace.  I began looking at adverts in the magazine and applying for jobs.

I  received call backs from several positions but there was one job in particular that appealed to me. and so I went down to Kent for an interview. It was to work as a Chef for an American family living in the U.K.   Kent is one of the most beautiful counties in England. It is known as the Garden of England and is host to a lot of beautiful little villages.

Brenchley Manor

I went down by train for the interview from Chester where I was living at the time. This was just about the longest job interviews I have ever had. I was there for the most part of the day. I was given a guided tour of the Estate and of the cottage that would be mine. 

By the end of the day I was told that I had the job, which would include  a decent wage along with the cottage, which was situated just down the lane from the main house which you see above. 

Oak Cottage

It was a very lovely cottage and would be my home for as long as I worked at the Manor.  It was cozy and comfortable and well situated.  We had a large eat in kitchen/family room down stairs, a laundry room, and a walk in larder.  There was a circular staircase leading upstairs where there was a reception room, two largish bedrooms, a room we called the library/office and two bathrooms.

Cottage kitchen

This was only a small portion of the kitchen downstairs in the cottage.  It was quite large, with loads of cupboard and counter space. 

My job at the Manor entailed cooking for a family on a daily basis, five days of the week, breakfast, lunch and supper.  I got weekends off and bank holidays, unless it was a special occasion and of course I needed to work extra hours when they were entertaining.

Manor Kitchen

As well as cooking, I was responsible for cleaning the kitchen, larder and conservatory. 

There was a huge larder just off the kitchen which had slate shelves.  It was lovely and cool in there. Stored in there were a variety of specialized dishes/platters/etc. which would be required for specific occasions.  

There was  a small wine/alcohol section, an area with tinned/packaged goods, and an ice machine. There was also another refrigerator which came in very handy to store things when a dinner party was planned.


The kitchen was huge.  I had access to a large sink with a garbage disposal a professional sized electric/gas stove, a gas burning AGA and every electrical appliance you can imagine.  On the other side of the cooking area was also a dining area which was never actually used for eating for the whole time I worked there, but served as an area to provide welcome drinks when guests were arriving for a luncheon or brunch. 

There were a multitude of cabinets, some of them glass fronted, which held a variety of silver and china, crystal, etc. I was also responsible for the maintenance of these.  The ceiling was oak beamed.  The walls were lined with copper utensils.  I was also responsible for polishing all of the silver and copper.  There was not only silver in the kitchen, but a huge cupboard across from the laundry room that was filled with it from the floor to the ceiling.

Working there cured me from ever wanting to have any copper, silver, or crystal for myself. It was a lot of work keeping these things up to par, and during those years I did enough of it to last me a lifetime.

Everything was beautiful however and I have to say it was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to work in a beautiful environment with some of the finest equipment and ingredients.

Every day meals were quite ordinary. Much the same as anyone would eat.  In the mornings I would make breakfast for the Mr. who usually had toast and jam, coffee, juice.  The Mrs. would have 3 mini bran muffins, a glass of my homemade fruit smoothie and 2 prunes.  The recipe I used for the bran muffins was this Refrigerator Bran Muffin recipe.  I kept a big jug of that in the refrigerator at all times.

It was only ever very occasionally that they would want anything else for breakfast. Occasionally he would like some scrambled eggs and toast, and if they had guests I would cook full breakfasts to order.  Bacon, eggs, sausage, etc.

guest house

Lunches were also very simple affairs.  He might ask me to make him a sandwich, or sometimes I would make a pizza and have it in the refrigerator that he could eat whenever he wanted.  A tray of Deviled Eggs was kept in the refrigerator at all times and I would often make a homemade soup for him to enjoy with  his sandwich.  He also liked to munch on cold chicken and there was also always a tray of crisp vegetables with homemade dip in there for snacking.

Every day suppers were also very simple.  Usually just some sort of protein with some vegetables on the side. They did not eat carbs such as rice, pasta or potatoes on a regular basis.  Dinner would be simply some beef, pork, chicken, duck, or fish (usually salmon), and 3 or 4 simply cooked vegetables as well as a salad.   Dessert was also not an every day thing, although the Mr. did like me to cook my Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fudge Walnut Brownies on a regular basis. 

On Chocolate Chip Cookie days, all the staff made a visit to the kitchen. They all adored my cookies, and would pop into the kitchen, one at a time for a freshly baked cookie.

The Ladies' Luncheons were a different matter. These were much more involved and required a lot of work in preparation.  The Mrs. would entertain ladies for luncheons several times a month.  They would consist of drinks served in the kitchen upon arrival, usually Elderflower cordial as well as an assortment of finger foods. Not too many, only one or two because the ladies were always watching their weight. Small nibbles only.

soup dishes

There would usually be a soup course to begin, with perhaps some cracker breads or tiny muffins on the side.  It would only be a simple soup like Potage Crecy.  

The soup was often served in these vegetable shaped ceramic soup dishes which each had their own lids to keep them warm.  They were all different shapes and very pretty.

The main course would usually be a salad of some sort, sometimes grilled chicken with a few vegetables, or salmon.  All very dainty, and of course, beautifully presented.

The Conservatory

There would be a dessert to finish.  A favorite of the ladies was the Frozen Lemon Souffle which would have been prepared by myself as small individual souffles and served with some berries or a coulis.

There would be iced water and a variety of wines to serve with each course and chocolates and coffee to finish.

I loved doing the luncheons.  Sometimes they would be held outside on the patio, but more often than not they were held in the conservatory, which was just off the kitchen.  (See photo above.)

I did all of the planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and serving.   I was also responsible for setting and dressing the table, an example of which you can see above. Plus all of the clean-up afterwards. I tried to pick dishes that I could do in advance for the most part for the first and dessert courses. That way I had only to really concentrate on the main course on the day.   

me cooking

They involved long hours of preparation, and many hours spent on my feet on the day, but I loved the challenge of being able to pull it all together and I can tell you, they were always very happy with what I had prepared.   I was right in my element, and, as tired as I would be at the end of it all, I always felt a great sense of accomplishment when it was done, and really enjoyed all of it.  They were considered to be quite casual affairs.

As fun to plan and prepare as the luncheons were, the dinner parties were what I loved doing most of all!  I planned, cooked and served dinner parties for as few as 6 or 8 people and as many as 25. Usually six courses, including the coffee's and chocolates afterwards.

Dinner parties were always quite a bit more elaborate and involved a lot more in terms of preparation and effort.   They were silver service and consisted of appetizers and drinks upon arrival, usually served in the main reception room.   I would usually prepare 3 to 4 different appetizers.  Some favorites were this delicious Smoked Salmon Spread with crisp breads,  boiled Quails Eggs, Toasted Cheese Rounds, Smoked salmon on little rounds of brown bread with lemon, etc.


Another favorite were these Stilton and Walnut Shortbreads which were served spread with cream cheese and topped with a dollop of Mango Chutney and a toasted walnut half. Real party fare.

Dining Room

Following the appetizers and drinks there would be a first course.  (This photo above is of the dining room, but dressed for a luncheon rather than a dinner party. Dinner parties were always silver service.)  The first course was usually a soup dish or a fish dish.  She was very fond of stacked salads.  I had special rings to stack things up in. You would set the salads up in the rings, on plates, and then once they were set remove the rings for service.   Things like this Layered Cobb Salad would be a prime example.

Following the first course (starter) there would be a main course.  This could be any number of things.  Lamb, Beef, chicken, fish, etc. Accompanied with a variety of vegetables and of course the special dinner rolls that I would have  baked earlier in the day. This recipe on Cooking Classy is very similar to the party rolls I used to make for the dinner parties.

first course

I plated everything very judiciously.  Small dabs of each thing, artfully placed, so as not to overwhelm appetites. It took some getting used to.  I was used to family service prior to working at the manor and had to really learn to restrain myself when I was plating up.  With five or six courses being served they didn't want overly large helpings of anything.

dining room 

They really were very elegant affairs.

Following the main course there would be a dessert course. Typically I would prepare two to three different desserts. Usually a chocolate one, a light one and then a cake of some sort.  I tried always to pick desserts that I could make well ahead of time that I wouldn't have to do for when it came to the actual day.  These Baby Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes were very popular.

Lemon Possets were another favorite.

After dessert there would be a cheese course.  Prior to cooking at the manor I had a very timid cheese palate.  I soon learned that in order to put together a delicious cheese tray I needed to know what I was doing and so I learned to love cheese.

I would prepare a large silver tray holding a variety of cheeses and fruits with special silver scissors meant to be used to clip off little sprigs of grapes.  Normally there would be a hard cheese, some semi hard cheese, a soft cheese, a conversational cheese and a variety of fruits. Perhaps some wedges of apple, grapes, ripe figs, etc.

A silver biscuit barrel would also be passed at the table for the guests to enjoy a variety of crackers and biscuits with their cheeses.  Small bread and butter plates with special silver knives would have been laid for them to spread their biscuits, cheese and fruits on.

As they were enjoying their cheese course I would be preparing the coffee course.

coffee course

Coffee and chocolates were always served in what was called the Linen Fold Room. This was a room which had special oak wood paneling which dated back to the Elizabethan age which had been carved in a specific linen fold pattern. There were several chairs and a comfortable sofa in the room and a huge inglenook type of fireplace. The fire would have been set so that is was glowing and soft lighting would add to the ambiance of the room.

We always used a large wooden antique tray for this with handles. A hand crocheted antique lace cloth would be places over top and then the coffee things would be placed on top of the cloth. Small demi-tasse cups with silver spoons, and a silver basket covered with a doily and filled with a variety of quality chocolates.

linen fold room

By that time my work would have been almost done for the day. I would be busy clearing, cleaning and washing up.  Leftovers, if any, would have been covered and refrigerated. The silver and crystal hand washed and put away and the dish washer would be humming. 

Normally I would clean up the coffee things the next morning.  That way they were free to socialize as they wanted and I could go home and get a well deserved good night's sleep before work the next day.

All did not always run smoothly.  I remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I cooked, the turkey burned.  It was a really large turkey and I had it in the electric oven. I went back to our cottage for a wee break and when I returned it was to discover that the bottom of the turkey was burning.  It was so large that it was too close to the bottom element .  We quickly ran to the shops, picked up two smaller ones and the first one was used as a show piece (elaborately garnished with plenty of parsley) and the guests were served meat from the other two.   We did have a great laugh over that one. 

The Mrs. said that it wouldn't be Thanksgiving if nothing happened to the turkey! 

grounds of the manor

All in all I really enjoyed my years working at the Manor. I got to work in a beautiful environment with the finest equipment and ingredients. I got to stretch and expand my culinary skills more than I had ever thought myself capable, and I left there with a really good reputation intact.

So much so that a few years ago, they contacted me from their home in the Bahamas asking me could I come to work for them again.   They said I had been the best Chef that they had ever  had working for them.  The offer included a cottage on the beach, etc.  I had to turn it down though. I was very content now to just do what I am doing and to be near my family. I do admit I was very flattered to have been asked to return,  however, and I was really chuffed that they thought so highly of me.

Elizabethan Garden

It really was a great experience and one that this simple girl from rural Nova Scotia had never thought that she would ever get to live.   Living and working in a beautiful spot in the Garden of Kent.  If I had my life to live over again, this experience would always be a part of it. Through it I learned a great deal about fine cooking and dining, proper service, and entertaining on a grand scale. This I will always be grateful for.

This content (written and photography) is the sole property of The English Kitchen. Any reposting or misuse is not permitted. If you are reading this elsewhere, please know that it is stolen content and you may report it to me at: mariealicejoan at aol dot com Thanks so much for visiting. Do come again! 



  1. What an absolutely fascinating story you tell. I can visualise it all and wonder about the people that live this lavish but restrained lifestyle. I fear it would be impossible for me to be one of the ladies watching her weight, with all your gorgeous recipes! And what a compliment to you that they wanted you back. We're lucky to have you here!

    1. Thanks so much Joanna! It was like living in a little bubble! xo

  2. I love reading this and learning even more about your amazing culinary travels. I am so impressed with your ability to take on this incredible journey and leave this family so happy with your work. Your memories are wonderful and described in such detail that they bring your readers right there with you. Love this story! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I was mesmerized reading your lovely memories of a special time in your life. I especially enjoyed the photo of you prepping a meal. In the first novel I wrote, the main character inherits a Manor House, and it featured an Inglenook fireplace. I am fascinated by the Manors and cottages in the UK. I visited England once many years ago and loved it. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    1. Oh, I would love to read your novels! What are the titles? I can look them up! Thank you! xo

  4. Enjoyable read! Thanks!

  5. What an amazing story, how lucky was you to have such a wonderful opportunity Thank you for sharing your fascinating story. X

  6. I loved reading about your life journey and accomplishments! I enjoy and use many of your recipes! You continue to bring joy to life!

    1. Thank you so much! That's very kind of you to say! xo

  7. What a lot of work Marie! They seemed like a nice family to work for and how flattering that they asked you to come back and work for them again.

    1. It really was a great experience for the most part! Thank you! xo

  8. I always love hearing about your time at The Manor House! This was a great read and loved the photos.

    1. Thanks very much Marilyn! It was a really pretty part of the country! xo

  9. What an amazing story ! How lucky was you ?. Thank you for sharing with us z

  10. I loved reading about your experiences. What a lot of responsibility that you handled very well.I can't imagine keeping up with so many details and preparing beautiful foods for so many guests at one time! You truly are a professional!

    1. Thank you so much! I did really enjoy it and as I said, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to stretch my abilities! I did learn a lot! xo

  11. Thank you so much for this delightful journey through your experience. You've told the story with great affection and detail, and we are the beneficiaries. And thank you for sharing your always delicious recipes! I use your recipes more than anyone else on the internet. You are a treasure. Thank you.

    1. You are very welcome! It makes me happy that you enjoy my recipes so much! That's why I do this! Thank you for your kind words! xo

  12. It was fascinating reading about your experience and the dishes you cooked. And so kind of you to share the recipes too so that we can all enjoy them and benefit from your expertise. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us! My admiration for you and your cooking skills has only grown reading this. I am glad I found your blog oh so many years ago.🥰

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate it! xo

  14. What a wonderful story! Thank you for telling us about your work at the Manor. I would have found that job so daunting, but you handled it with such skill and grace. I loved the story about the Thanksgiving turkey--sounds like Mr. and Mrs. were very nice to work for. Maybe you've answered this question elsewhere, but how many years did you work at the Manor?

    You are an adept writer and chef--I encourage you to write your memoirs for your children and grandchildren!

    And thank you for sharing your fantastic recipes with us. I so appreciate that they are downsized for a small household. Every recipe here that I've here has turned out wonderfully, and I look forward to making many more. :^)

    1. Thank you very much! I am in the process of doing so. Thanks also for your comments re my smaller sized recipes. It is nice to know that they are being appreciated! xo

  15. What a beautiful dream job. You have been so blessed!

  16. This is fascinating, Marie, and I enjoyed every photo and description. (What IS a conversational cheese, anyway? That's a new one to me!) Thanks also for the recipes (you had me at Stilton Shortbread!). Have you ever thought of doing that again in Canada? How wonderful that they so admired your cooking and how you work/who you are that they would ask you to return. You have a book or a magazine article here -- I could see an article in something like a women's lifestyle magazine!

    1. Thanks so much Jeanie. I am too old now to want to work full time like that again. But I admire your faith in me! I could probably write a book about the whole experience, but who would want to read it? Not sure! xo


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