College catering: students, staff and the ethics of what we eat

Bradford College runs a number of catering and hospitality courses: they are practical and popular, with numbers rising rapidly both in further and higher education.

Our catering staff and students also run two restaurants and a café on the College campus, open to everyone. They provide catering for events of all sizes, mostly in the College. This gives the students some great hands-on experience, and helps generate some revenue for the catering courses.

IMG_1127Aidan James (pictured above) is the College’s Restaurant Manager and Trainer. He has a degree and MPhil in catering management, and worked in the food and beverage industry before joining the College seven years ago to teach catering and manage our restaurants and cafes. He talked to me about the ethical issues that the catering team faces.

“It’s an exciting time,” Aidan says. “When our new £50 million eco-friendly building opens in September 2014, the main restaurant and cafeteria will be in the central entrance area, really well placed to welcome people in, and with lovely views of the new green area outside.” At the same time, Aidan explains, the additional College cafes which are currently run by an external contractor will all become College-run, giving the students more opportunities for valuable work experience and hopefully generating income for the College.

Food supply
Aidan says that the catering team have to balance a number of factors when sourcing food. “We want to stay local, so we lessen the fuel miles and help support local employment and business. We need value for money, so we can keep costs down for the College and our customers. And we want quality.

“So we tend to get our fresh fruit and veg from the wholesale market in St James’s, off Wakefield Road. Our meat comes in part from a local supplier, and from Sykes House Farm which provides high quality and is supportive to our students, who can visit their butchery department and slaughter house.”

Dry goods, wines and spirits mostly come from a large national company with a local depot, because of the good prices. “However, we are always reviewing this,” Aidan adds. “And we are about to switch to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and that will come from a Bradford company.”

Aidan explains that there are real risks in the food trade. “They include poor quality, passing off and adulterated food. So we want the students to be aware of the positive choices that can be made, and of the risks you need to be alert to. High standards are key. Once we are running all the College food and refreshment outlets we will have more buying clout, which will help us get quality produce at a reasonable price.

Grow your own
“The other area we hope to expand is getting the students and staff involved in growing food. We already have a small allotment, but with the new building there will be new opportunities. And we are next door to the University of Bradford which is doing a great job in this respect, so we hope to strengthen our links.”

Healthy eating and dietary requirements
“Eating healthy food is important – and new information and requirements are always emerging,” Aidan says. “This summer we’ve consulted with our customers who have special dieteray requirements to find out how we can better meet their needs.” The team are introducing a more flexible menu as a result. They are also looking at possibly having two main teaching kitchens in the new building, one halal and one non-halal.

“It’s a hard juggling act getting the menu right! In addition to ensuring meals are healthy and meet particular needs, we want to cover the curriculum, provide affordable food, be ethical, and minimise waste.”

Experience and enrichment
Aidan finishes by saying that another important goal is to give the students experience that widen their horizons. “We find opportunities for our students to meet the suppliers – most recently we went to visit a rhubarb farm in Tong, he says. “Also, the College is one of the main sponsors of the annual World Curry Festival, and our students volunteer to help run this each year as well as take part as contestants.” There has been a ‘food not waste‘ campaign, and now a team of staff and students provides an annual staff barbecue.

Aidan (at the back on the right) with catering students and staff.

Aidan (at the back on the right) with catering students and staff.

Finally, the team recently addressed the growing work load by taking on two catering apprentices, building in a range of work experience and training. They are ready for expansion!

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