“I eat out a lot and I love the restaurants and café bars of Barcelona. They’ll have interesting details, like a bike on the wall, and this is something I wanted to bring here,” Gavin Stevens, chef manager of The Kingsley School, told me during my visit.
He came to the Leamington Spa independent school around two-and-a-half years ago after CH&CO Independent came on board as caterers and approached him to join. The school has been amazed not only by his ideas for food, but also his ‘eye for detail’. When he’s not coming up with nutritious and fun food for Kingsley pupils and staff, he’s refurbishing unloved furniture for the dining room, hanging plants from the windows or picking up pumpkins and seasonal vegetables to decorate the space. These details have turned the dining room into a colourful, inviting area.
“I like working with plant-based and vegan trends as they’re both healthy and colourful,” says Stevens. “Recycling is our next port of call. We’ve seen a 90% plastic reduction already, but we want to bring in permanent lunchboxes for those wishing to take food away.”
I like working with plant-based and vegan trends as they’re both healthy and colourful
The catering team of five has been recognised nationally too; they’ve been shortlisted for the EDUcatering Independent School Caterer of the Year award, the Heartbeat Award for healthy eating, the FSM Awards and many more.
Rebecca Rogers, Kingsley’s assistant head (academic), told me about the school’s requirements when they partnered with CH&CO Independent: “The girls were eating but it wasn’t fun. We wanted to educate them about food, push their boundaries and challenge their tastes – that was the journey we wanted to go on.
“One of our main goals was for more girls and staff to come through the dining room. It’s compulsory for years 7, 8 and 9, so it had to be something they wanted to do. We’ve seen the success of it because a lot of them choose to carry it on to years 10 and 11, and even sixth formers come over to eat their lunch. Before you would never see a sixth former in the building, but they love it and it’s really good value for money.”
More staff are choosing to eat in the dining room too, which Rogers says has “made the school dining experience much more of a community thing”.
Every week Kingsley holds student voice meetings, and any suggestions and ideas get fed back to the catering team.
There is also an ideas board in the dining room where students can stick post-it notes up about what they’d like to eat. However, the school has seen the board become less used as the pupils’ relationships have strengthened with the catering team – now they’ll ask direct. “They give me a grilling, but that’s what I’m here for,” says Stevens.
The school creates 300+ meals a day, including breakfast, breaktime snacks and lunch, but what do the pupils think? The girls I spoke to said some of their favourites included curry, turkey meatballs, vegetable spring rolls, the salad bar and falafels. They even love meat-free Tuesday.
The hydration station has large dispensers full of water infused with fresh ingredients such as mint and cucumber, lemon and watermelon. A four-week menu cycle keeps things fresh and each Friday is themed. With Street Food Day taking place during my visit, the pupils and staff happily tucked into chicken, fish or plant-based burgers, a huge range of salad, sweet potato fries or potato wedges, and pancakes for dessert with healthy toppings.
Rogers told me why the school decided to up the stakes with healthy eating: “It’s a national requirement, healthy eating is on the national agenda and pupils’ wellbeing is part of the inspection regime. As a school we’ve got a responsibility for the whole wellbeing of the student. It’s incumbent on us to educate girls in healthy eating as issues around food are so huge.”
It’s not just the day-to-day dining that CH&CO Independent are involved with. Kingsley puts on regular events for pupils and parents to enjoy including a Royal Wedding-themed picnic, garden party, World Challenge event, wine-tasting for new year 7 parents and afternoon tea with Japanese visitors. They are great opportunities for Stevens to get creative. For the entrance exam taster mornings, he made the dining experience buffet-style, with mini burgers and onion bhajis, so the girls could mingle.
Rogers says: “It was more cost-effective this way too, so he does keep an eye on the budget. He doesn’t hold back on flavour either and the girls loved it.” Adding well-matched cheese and bread to the parents’ wine-tasting event she says, “took the whole event up a notch in terms of sophistication”.
The partnership between CH&CO Independent and Kingsley has been “really productive” Rogers told me. “There have been discussions going backwards and forwards, which have always been open and honest. It’s never going to be right straight away but because of the open communication channels between us, we’re really happy,” she said.
The school’s next goal? Getting the quantities right – looking at which events need more food, and which need less – and whether they can go more local with their food.
Watch this space!
To find out more, visit: www.chandcogroup.com/education