Feeding Mount Kelly

A strong team and a good relationship with pupils and parents makes for successful catering, says Julie Soper

Mount Kelly in Devon is a boarding and day school for pupils aged 3-18, caters for 164 boarding pupils and is a member of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA). I have been working there for more than 28 years now and winning the Thomas Franks Star Team award recently has been a highlight. The award recognises that our 30-strong team, along with Mary Turner and Felicity Aska from Thomas Franks Operations, have been able to achieve the independent caterers’ own high standards. 

Even though we are a strong team, however, there are still a few challenges along the way. We need to provide very varied catering for different events, which include formal dinners, match teas, canapé evenings and many other special functions. We also cater for visiting groups to the outdoor adventure centre. The school has students from around the world and we need to ensure that they enjoy the food we provide. Adhering to catering legislation is an ongoing challenge, but Thomas Franks provide support, expertise and information in this area.

We are trained to deal with allergies and we continually reiterate the importance of this issue. All food is labelled and  the high-risk food allergens it contains are listed. Mount Kelly ensures that we are aware of pupils who require special diets and the catering team know the pupils and ensure that they are provided with the correct meals. The school nurse provides literature about all pupils with allergens for our reference and trains us to use epi pens, should we ever need to. Thomas Franks has recently gained gluten-free accreditation from the Coeliac Society and Mount Kelly was involved in this.

The expectations of school catering are increasing all the time and the image of food in school has changed dramatically. Pupils rightfully expect high-quality, tasty meals and it is also important to keep up with current trends. We aim to provide a healthy, well-balanced diet and encourage the pupils to make healthy choices whilst still enjoying their food.

All of this aside, I am always pleased when pupils enjoy their meal times, not just for the food, but also for the interaction they have with the catering team. All of the catering team have a good relationship with the pupils, especially the boarders, as this is their home during term time. We are aware if pupils seem unhappy and always pass this on to the pastoral head.

We speak to parents at events such as match teas and parents’ consultations and they are always very complimentary. We are constantly receiving praise, which makes the job even more rewarding. We recently produced a school cookbook, requested by the parents, as pupils complained that their meals at home weren’t as good as those provided by us – the parents wanted our recipes!

I love the fact we are playing a part in helping the children to prepare for their futures by keeping them well fed, healthy and happy.  

Julie Soper is catering general manager at Mount Kelly School: www.mountkelly.com

Putting women first

“Julie understands that most pupils have no other choice but to eat with us – so she makes it feel like a home from home,” says Frank Bothwell of Thomas Franks. “There’s always constant debate about what they want to see on the menus, peppered with lots of fun to ensure everyone’s happy.

“Two thirds of the Thomas Franks board are professional females and over 60 percent of the senior team is female. We’re focusing on new ways to empower the women who work for us: an example is the individual training programmes we have rolled out championing ‘women first’ at work. Hayley Payn was our first female manager at Thomas Franks (she joined over 10 years ago) and she recently attended a bespoke female chef development programme aimed at rising female culinary stars.”

Frank Bothwell is managing director and founder of Thomas Franks: www.thomasfranks.co.uk

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