When your childhood dream is to become a Polar explorer and you’ve been inspired by stories of Shackleton and Scott, it wouldn’t come as a great surprise to anyone if it remained just that: a dream. But for Olivier Hubert, Executive Chef at St Helen and St Katharine in Abingdon, that ambition is about to become reality. This month, Olivier embarks on a six-month expedition to join the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as part of their catering team at Antarctica’s Halley VI Research Station.
“It was only at my first induction training at BAS HQ in Cambridge that it really hit home,” says Olivier. “I will fly to Cape Town, and from there to Antarctica, coming into Halley via the Russian and German bases. Setting foot on the continent I have always dreamed of visiting will be an emotional experience – but getting to grips with the realities of everyday cooking challenges such as melting water from the surrounding snow and waiting for fresh food deliveries will bring me down to earth. But my passion is for cooking the very best food possible, so whether it is for 700 girls at our school in Abingdon or a great collaborative team of 100 scientists, specialists and support staff in Antarctica, I will do my very best.”
Inspired by the scientific work of the BAS and with the blessing of his family and the school, Olivier applied for the position in January and was selected from over 100 shortlisted applicants to support Halley as it is moved to its new site in the coming months.
Halley VI is, along with Rothera, one of two research stations based on the continent of Antarctica itself (a further three are based in the sub-Antarctic). Perched on the Brunt Ice Shelf, Halley VI is the world’s first re-locatable research facility. Made up of a series of eight interlinked pods built on skis, it can be towed into a new position by specialist heavy vehicles if the ice shifts.
“We are extremely excited and proud of Olivier,” enthuses Head Rebecca Dougall. “His pursuit of a dream, going so far out of his comfort zone and challenging himself in such extreme conditions is a wonderful example of the kind of attitude that we instil in our students here at school.
We are hugely looking forward to sharing his polar culinary adventures with live phone links, social media posts and insights into the globally important environmental research that BAS undertakes.”
For leading education caterers The Brookwood Partnership, Christmas Day at clients Westminster Abbey Choir School is a rather special occasion. “We can often hear the boys practising the carols and their excitement as they open their presents in the dining rooms,” enthuses Sue Frayn, Brookwood’s Managing Director of Operations. “With the televised traditional Christmas service and an evening of concerts, our catering team are on-hand to ensure the choristers and guests also get to enjoy a Christmas lunch.
“We start with a canapé reception for around 80 people, which includes the choristers, teachers and guests. This is followed by a traditional Christmas lunch. Timing is always crucial as the choristers have to be ready to sing for all the day’s events. With the boys being away from home, for what most of us spend with our families, our team will go out of their way to ensure the choristers have a Christmas to remember. Recently one of our chefs created a gingerbread cake in the model of the Abbey which the boys and guests thoroughly enjoyed – many of them said it seemed a shame to eat it.
When planning the menu for the day, Brookwood work closely with the school and choir master to ascertain what is required of the boys during the day – and how their catering should respond. “We do this to ensure that we are providing all the traditional favourites in a balanced meal that will also help the boys maintain their energy levels,” Sue explains. “One of our highlights from ‘Christmas at the Abbey’ is after dinner, when several of the adult choristers entertain the guests and sing a thank you to the catering team – it certainly makes our Christmas Day!”
Also taking on new challenges in the catering field is Harrison Catering Service, which has seen educational catering change dramatically since its formation in 1994. “The independent schools sector delivers a world-class education to a global audience with a diverse range of culinary tastes,” acknowledges Mark Stower, Harrison’s Director of Food and Service.
“The role of a food service provider is constantly changing,” Mark continues. “Within the educational sector it’s really important to help students settle into their new surroundings and Harrison sees food, wellbeing and nutrition as important aspects of the all-round pastoral care package provided by independent schools. Research forms a big part of my role and learning about different cultures, regions and trends is key to good menu creation.
As Mark explains, students’ dietary habits can be heavily influenced by a number of factors, with culture and origin no longer the sole determinants. “One of the first things I look at when I’m creating a new menu is a map to see exactly what part of the world the student population is arriving from. Flavour preferences and use of herbs and spices is just the tip of the iceberg: how meat is cooked, and whether it is served on or off the bone, also has to be considered.”
The explosion in sharing of food recipes and imagery via Instagram, Facebook and other social media channels has played a big part in diversifying palates. “People can instantly share images and video footage of their favourite foods from all over the world, and food bloggers can shape not just what we eat but how we eat it. These factors all give rise to an ever-increasing sophistication in students’ palates.
“Street foods are also becoming increasingly popular and pop-up street stalls offer all sorts of food from around the globe. Our chefs enjoy embracing these new food trends: we make all our sauces from scratch and ensure we use the correct ingredients, however exotic, to create our fresh pastes and sauces. All these environmental influencers impact our hospitality offerings too. I’ve recently catered for a party of visitors from Morocco and they were delighted that I was able to serve mint teas and hot pomegranate juice in chai cups. It’s the attention to detail that counts.” What’s more, winter provides Mark and his teams with the perfect opportunity to create some real show-stoppers. “We eat traditional winter foods without really thinking about their origin – stollen from Austria, traditional gingerbread houses from Germany, and mince pies from the Middle East from where crusaders brought recipes over to Europe containing meats, fruits and spices.
“Our chefs produce a huge range of foods and have engaged with their students in the creation of recipes and menus. It just goes to show that traditional British foods are constantly evolving as diets become more eclectic with the diversifying and increasing availability of cuisines from around the globe. These are exciting times for the food industry, and at Harrison we value these new challenges.”