Dish up a winner

Andrew Mourant rounds up some experts with tasty advice for helping students shine in their food technology assessments

Aspiring chefs face a long haul before they get to be shouted at by the likes of Gordon Ramsay. In serious restaurants, every meal time is a ferocious examination, pitting talent against time. Yet the stakes can seem as high for catering students - practical assessments comprise 40 per cent of the Welsh Joint Education Committee's GCSE in hospitality and catering.

The food technology element of GSCE DT may be less vocational but still draws on principles of good practice and common sense.

Jan Gallon, head of DT at Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School in Essex, makes the following suggestions:

* Involve students in planning the group assignment. Encourage them to take a full part in discussions. This will ensure that they are well prepared for the independent part of their planning.

* When students are choosing dishes, remind them to count the skills used in each one. Encourage them to include at least four skills per dish to demonstrate cooking ability.

* Get them to practise the dish - advise them to try it out at home first.

* Warn them to avoid such dishes as home-made mayonnaise that can curdle if you are nervous - shaking hands may not manage to add oil drop by drop!

* Suggest they take a bottle of water with them but sip slowly - thereby avoiding trips to the loo.

* Recommend they eat well before an assessment - it's easy to feel faint on an empty stomach.

Ali Farrell, director of the Food Forum (, offers this advice:

* Encourage students to make products that show off their knowledge and understanding of food and food-handling skills.

* Get them to show they can take an idea forward in different directions, rather than selecting and making someone else's ideas from a recipe book.

* Ensure they're clear about objectives; also that they have the correct ingredients and equipment for practical sessions.

* Tell them to record what happens during each bit of development work - for instance if there are changes in quantities or ingredients.

* Ensure they demonstrate food knowledge by including details of how the product would be made in industry.

Sarah Middleton's advice comes from teaching catering and food technology at Robert Smythe School in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.

* Encourage students to produce their own designs rather than the whole class following a set recipe.

* Ask for time plans for their designs.

* Get them to demonstrate as many cooking skills as possible when producing food items.

* Try not to let time constraints put limits on creative recipes.

* Encourage students to take their own responsibility for the time given.

* Mark finished food pieces on a central display table to encourage class competition.

* Ensure all students, whatever their ability, produce recipes that challenge them.

* Get them to produce dishes from around the world.

* To create innovative design, ask students to take an existing recipe, change ingredients and comment on the developments.

* Encourage teamwork and seat students of mixed abilities together.

* At the beginning of an assessment, circulate the classroom to find out what each student is producing in order to assist and plan for mistakes that may need rectifying.

Laura Cheney, a former home economist with British Gas, is now head of department at Ferndown Upper School, Dorset, and teaches GCSE catering to Year 12. She says:

* Be a good role model - don't expect students to be creative, organised and hygienic in the kitchen if you are not like this yourself.

* Show off your own skills. Let them taste the results - they might find they like something they always thought they hated.

* Show students "what not to do" in developing an idea, and hygiene and safety aspects.

* Before embarking on assessed practicals, allocate students to work as quality control inspectors during practical sessions, reporting back on what they observed.

* Some students approach practical coursework in a very non-creative way - work backwards with these students and allow them to make their final idea first.

* Talk about popular celebrity chefs, and use video clips of them at work. Get students to comment on their methods.

* Be a real nag in the kitchen - constant time-checks, clearing the area, checking washing-up etc. Only army standards will do.

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