Some chefs see working in a restaurant as a challenge; others enjoy producing institutional food; while a third group clearly enjoy working under the constant pressure that catering for functions such as Garsington Opera demand.

Thirty-four-year-old Dan Mann has chosen functions — Garsington Opera being his favourite. As regular opera lovers will be aware, the annual summer festival is now firmly fixed in the Wormsley Estate, in the Chiltern Hills, the home of the Getty family, and set in an expanse of rolling verdant parkland complete with lake and deer park. In other words — an English country estate ordered on a very grand scale. Catering for opera enthusiasts must therefore be of the highest standards. It is a challenge Dan relishes.

After extensive training and kitchen experience — including a period working at two top restaurants in Australia and one in New Zealand — Dan considers himself a complete all-rounder, capable of knocking out a Boston rib of beef on the bone as easily as he can create home-made ice cream or a glazed passion fruit tart featuring the lightest of light pastries.

The food at Garsington Opera comes under the umbrella of Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, and as such celebrates British ingredients and the highest standards of animal welfare.

Dan has been the director of food at Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts for more than four years. He says he loves the buzz generated by the opera season which gets under way this year on June 2 with Mozart’s Don Giovanni and concludes with Offenbach’s La Perichole on July 3.

He said: “It might be just one month, but you would be surprised at how much the kitchen brigade have to pack into those 31 days.

“We don’t just prepare three-course interval dinners, but also gourmet picnics that are set out on a table in the pavilion overlooking the cricket pitch, as well as picnic hampers that concertgoers can collect and enjoy in the grounds before the curtain rises. The kitchen team is also there to provide afternoon tea with all the trimmings for guests who want to extend their visit to Wormsley.”

The interval is just 60 minutes long, and during that time Dan’s team have to prepare a three-course meal for anything from 100 to 300 guests. This is no easy task.

He says the opera meals have to be organised with the precision of a military exercise.

Every one of his kitchen brigade has a particular task, and every dish should look exactly like the next. The trend this year is far more Mediterranean in style than in previous years, with an emphasis on fresh fish dishes. The choice of puddings will include individual baked Alaskas. Dan admits this is not an easy dish as it has to be baked at the very last moment, and served immediately it is taken out of the oven before the ice cream melts.

He said: “We do practice runs of course; we also provide clients with the chance to taste the dishes before the event, so that they are confident that they are getting exactly what they want when booking a large party.”

The thing that the team dread most is a power cut, but so far this has not happened. They have learned from last year, though, when they were working on wooden floors that reacted unfavourably to the sudden movement of a dozen chefs walking together towards the service area to plate up. This year the temporary kitchen has been fitted with a concrete foundation, which will not move as they work. Dan said that one of the joys of preparing more than 100 dishes that have to be served within an hour, is watching all those empty plates laid out in the service area suddenly evolving into tempting dishes of delicious food that vanish within seconds as the waiters carry them into the dining area. “The feeling of satisfaction when that main meal goes out is tremendous; it makes all that effort we put in worthwhile.”

If you would like more details of the Garsington Opera menus go to