Double EDUcatering Excellence Award winner Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate has a five-year plan to revitalise its catering offer. Three years in and the school is on track to offer a totally innovative, inclusive service involving the whole school, writes Morag Wilson
Full disclosure: Queen Ethelburga’s once beat my Rounders B Team. I was a backstop, it was a short-lived sporting career. But I seem to remember the match teas were pretty good. That was about 20 years ago, mind. Today, there’s no denying that the catering at Queen Ethelburga’s, an independent non-selective boarding and day school for girls and boys from three to 18, is second to none. At last year’s EDUcatering Excellence Awards it walked away with two awards – Independent School Caterer of the Year and the School Food Plan Award – and the school also won the McDougalls Young Baking Team of the Year competition, prize money from which the school has set up a project with the Pastoral & Welfare team to keep their own chickens, which will live in the vegetable garden, be cared for pupils and supply some eggs for the kitchen.
The catering department are seen as an essential part of the school. The operation was brought in-house in 2006 and since then has only gone from strength to strength. In 2014 the department developed a tailored and structured approach to the catering provision that would map out the next five years, with a focus on a whole school ethos towards healthy eating and wellbeing, which was launched in 2015-16.
Catering general manager Fran Graves explains some of the initiatives the department has been doing.
Are you on track to achieving your five-year plan?
Our original five-year plan was based on the following:
Year 1: Preparation – research, training, planning, networking
Year 2: Procurement – suppliers, product specifications, provenance and menu design
Year 3: Produce – growing & harvesting, cooking, recycling, sustainability
Year 4: People – interaction, teaching, social media, health & wellbeing
Year 5: Publication – sharing, cooking tutorials, cookery book, collaboration
We are on track and incredibly pleased with the progress we have made towards our plan, although it has been incredibly challenging at times! The arrival of our chickens completes a big part of our year three aims and we have also changed to a new waste management company who recycle all of the cardboard/plastic/tin and food waste from the catering department which was one of our recycling aims.
We have recently moved one of our chefs, James Brown, into a new role as school food development chef, who will be supporting the team in working towards achieving the rest of the objectives and then creating new ones! We hope to achieve our Bronze Food for Life award this year and there are so many exciting new ideas and initiatives to get involved in within school catering that we are excited about what else the next few years will bring!
What led to the decision in 2014 to revitalise the catering provision?
The School Food Plan was definitely a motivating factor in reviewing our catering operation. Being an independent school we didn’t have to follow the standards, and while we were already providing a healthy, nutritious menu for our students, after a lot of research and discussion, we as a team felt that we had a responsibility to our students to offer them the very best that we could and that extended to much more than just the food on the plate.
Being a residential school, areas such as cooking and growing were key focus points for us and we started running cookery clubs for the students and were given an area of land to develop into our own kitchen vegetable garden.
Our school is also our student’s home and we play an important part in their lives. We want them to leave us as healthy, well informed, independent individuals so the ‘whole school approach’ ethos of the School Food Plan really encompassed a lot of our ideas and plans.
How did you develop your procurement process?
We did change a few suppliers and are still looking at ways to buy better products, in a more ethical way from as local a source as possible.
Our fruit and vegetable supplier Hebdon and Poole are very supportive of what we are working towards and have helped us in several ways, by running a session with the students on the produce they provide and where it comes from, offering local farm/grower visits, and they also designed a large display map for us highlighting the fields in which our produce was grown within a 30-mile radius, which went on display in our dining hall for the students to see.
We also spent some time revisiting our menus to see where else we could introduce local produce. We changed our soups and daily vegetable dishes to include more seasonal produce and highlighted items that we were already buying locally, such as our Easingwold reared pork sausages from Sykes House Farm, which come from less than 15 miles away from the school.
How much training do you give to your catering team?
The senior team underwent training on the school food standards and then redesigned our menus based on this. We then had to train our chefs on all of our new recipes including our new morning break provision, which completely changed from biscuits and cakes to healthy snacks such as homemade butternut squash muffins and fruit smoothies. We also produced briefing sheets to accompany our new menus for the kitchen team to help them understand and keep track of the main changes, such as which desserts contained 50% fruit.
The serving staff also had to undergo training as we completely removed salt from our condiments and limited the amount of ketchup students could have. This was a challenge initially and the serving staff had to learn how to deal with questions from the students. However, now the students understand the reason behind the change and we are working with them to expand our homemade seasoning and dressings to allow them to flavour dishes to their taste, but in a healthier way.
How do you cater across such a large school?
We currently cater for the majority of the school from our main facility, The Undercroft, where we average 3,000 hot meals per day for students, staff and visitors. We also have a smaller Early Years Foundation Stage kitchen with its own dedicated chef who cooks for our younger pupils from kindergarten through to Reception. We developed a three-stage weaning menu for our kindergarten starting with homemade purees, progressing to chunkier purees and introducing protein, dairy and carbohydrates, then onto finger food, before moving onto a simplified version of our main school menu to help with the transition to the main dining hall which has been hugely successful.
We then cater for everyone else from Year 1 up to sixth form from the same menu. One of our biggest challenges has been catering for such a vast age range from one facility and one menu, as it is difficult to accommodate all tastes and preferences. However, in September we will be opening our new purpose built sixth form dining facility, The Atrium. This will allow us to tailor each facility and its menu more specifically to the age range of the students dining there.
We will be working with our food committees to get the students involved in the menu design and the direction they would like to see the catering service take and we are all very excited about developing both catering facilities over the next academic year.
Although providing three meals a day, seven days a week is the main part of the catering service at Queen Ethelburga’s, the team also provide an extensive hospitality service. This can be anything from a packed lunch to meeting refreshments and buffets.
“We also cater for all of the main school events such as the sixth form end of year black tie dinner and the traditional school birthday parties, which take place over a week to allow all students to attend and feature a menu with traditional elements from when the school first opened over 100 years ago,” says Fran. “We provide all of the sports teas and refreshments for fixtures and have worked closely with the sports nutritionist to ensure students are getting their additional nutritional needs met with the meals provided.
“We also run an annual Healthy Lifestyles week encouraging students to further their knowledge on how to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes healthy snack workshops with the chefs, a healthy menu design competition, and growing activities in our vegetable garden.”
There’s still time to enter the EDUcatering Excellence Awards!
Taking home two EDUcatering Excellence Awards was “completely unexpected”, says Fran. It’s also incredibly rare, but shows how a good nomination and evidence of real achievement and best practice can reap the rewards! If you think your team is worthy of recognition, or there is an individual you work with who deserves a room full of applause, then enter the 2018 EDUcatering Excellence Awards!
Full details of the entry criteria can be found on page 12 and it is completely free to enter. Visit educateringawards.co.uk and complete the online booking form (you can save it and revisit it as many times as you like before submitting).
The final deadline is 20th July. Good luck!