Bringing the catering operation fully in-house became official over the summer and, as Darren stated earlier, the idea was to give our caterers more control and flexibility. That begins with the suppliers and both Darren and Rob are clear that choosing our own does not mean it’s a cost cutting exercise. On the contrary, they assert that the most important thing is the quality of the ingredients used and we are now able to get better value for money and higher quality products.
“For us it’s all about personal relationships”, says Rob. “Our eggs are all free range and come from Beechwood Farm, a family run business just a few miles up the road. We use two butchers, Vicars Game and Thatcham Butchers, both superb local businesses, as well as a number of local fishmongers, grocers and more. We are high volume customers to them which in turn helps to support jobs in our local communities: delivery drivers, butchers, farm workers and so on.”
That also includes supporting unique initiatives. One of the local bakers our caterers use to provide artisan and coffee shop products is Bread and Beyond, which provides young adults with learning difficulties an opportunity to learn how to bake.
“We heard their story and we wanted to get involved straight away and the quality of their product is really good so it ticks all the boxes”, says Rob. “Once it is safe to do so, we want to bring their students here so they can work with our pastry chefs and give them new working experiences. We want to give back to the local community.”
While controlling their own destiny, as Darren put it, means they can be more creative in the kitchen, the focus remains on food as part of an education.
“Throughout their Bradfield journey we want to help pupils learn about portion size, why eating blueberries in the morning is good for brain power in the classroom, learning why slow energy-releasing multi-vitamin smoothies help you get through Thursday fixtures when science says it’s the most difficult day of the week to motivate ourselves.”
The caterers are open to pupil feedback and one of the big changes last year was the introduction of the aforementioned ‘Meat-free days’ thanks to pupil involvement in the Catering Committee. For Rob and his team it’s always been about providing options and variety and the rise of vegan diets fits right into that belief.
“We want the pupils to have choice. Food has changed a lot; recently we have found that vegetarian or vegan food is as good if not better than a meat option but it is about increasing those options. We wanted to do it subtly not forcibly so we’ve made small changes in the kitchen, using alternative ingredients, to increase the variety of food out there without forcing it upon the pupils.”
The global pandemic will temporarily change the operation from the vision the College set out at the beginning of this process. Capacity will be limited, the team has had to reassess how the service can work with fewer chefs allowed to work in the kitchen at any one time and food will have to be prepackaged and pre-plated but that does not mean poorer quality.
“We won’t be able to offer as much variety”, says Darren, “however the quality is not going to change. That is still the most important thing. We are going to start simple but high quality but because we can be flexible with our new suppliers we can add to the offering very quickly. If we see an opportunity to reintroduce something we will.”
So what does the future hold for food at Bradfield? For Darren it is about maintaining a strong level of consistency in order to be recognized as the best Independent School.
“I want us to be recognized not just here, but by the wider community. We want to expand our offering in different areas of the College, to really go all out for the pupils with new dining experiences.”
“We want to be a beacon” adds Rob, “for what is possible within this kind of an environment. I think we have achieved a lot in those five years and hopefully the next five years will see us flourish.”