Big screen television has never looked so tasty

9th January 2009 at 00:00
Cameras may record every move, but for these budding chefs it is a recipe for success. Jean McLeish reports

It is the perfect venue for trainee celebrity chefs. At Fraserburgh Academy, pupils are constantly on camera in the state-of-the-art kitchen. There is no hiding place here, with 14 cameras focused on the culinary action at the gas hobs while pupils prepare everything from porridge to panacotta.

This morning, there are half a dozen pupils busily baking who are completely unfazed by the cameras. Butter's melting gently on the hob with syrup for biscuits, and there's a comforting aroma of freshly-made scones wafting across the kitchen.

Their teacher can spot any early signs of burning from the television screen above her desk and even when she's next door in the classroom which doubles as a restaurant, she can keep an eye on another screen in there.

So no hopes of sneaking your burnt offering into the bin before she collars you. The chances are she'll have seen the crime on camera before she smells it. Not that there's any burning going on here today - well not so far, anyway.

Everyone at this school seems very proud of the new kitchen, which was funded through Schools of Ambition - and no one more so than home economics teacher Wendy Gatt, the faculty principal teacher for health and fitness.

"It's wonderful - it's spectacular. And it mimics the workplace really well," says Mrs Gatt, proudly showing off the gleaming new facilities. "The kitchen is so streamlined and clean looking, because of the stainless steel around the whole perimeter, which is actually the pupils' work stations and cleaning up areas.

"Then the central console is six gas hobs and ovens with the cameras situated in a large canopy above them. The cameras can rotate or they can be fixed in one particular area," says the very chuffed teacher.

"It's good for pupils to be watched by those who are receiving the food," she says. It also means she doesn't need eyes in the back of her head when the cameras are covering every angle of the action. Perhaps the idea will catch on in other classes too.

The school's also celebrating a Pounds 10,000 award, won for its industry partnership with chefs from ESS Support Services Worldwide, part of the international food services giant Compass Group. Executive chef with ESS is Robbie Robertson, who advised on the design for the new kitchen and has responsibility for the company's offshore and international division. He runs 10 workshops over the year at this school, across the range of culinary skills.

Last year, ESS won the Compass in the Community Award for its work with Fraserburgh Academy and the money will be used to bring a top celebrity chef to the school and to develop this catering partnership. The ESS team heads for the international final of the competition in New York later this year, where the winners will scoop another cash prize."I was over the moon and I am looking forward to the global final now. I hope to win the Pounds 20,000 because that will make such a difference," says Mr Robertson.

He will be taking two former Fraserburgh Academy pupils, Christopher Ritchie and Bruce Lawrence, who are involved in the mentoring partnership, to the Big Apple.

The company created an annual student scholarship at the school to encourage young talent - Christopher was last year's winner and returns to his old school regularly with ESS. He was recently one of the Scottish Team for the Culinary Olympics in Germany.

"Chris was stunning. He got a silver medal and a bronze medal and the Scottish team got the silver for the cold table and a bronze for the hot kitchen," Mr Robertson says.

Fraserburgh has provided regular recruits for ESS over the years - Mr Robertson estimates there are well over 100 members of staff who went to the school and most are chefs. The partnership was launched four years ago by the company's then managing director, Peter Bruce, a former pupil with children at Fraserburgh. Since then, hundreds of pupils have benefited, with some going on to win awards in national competitions. It's that time again soon and 26 pupils will be battling against each other to win a place in the next round of the national competition Future Chef.

Acting headteacher John Noble is very enthusiastic about all these activities in the new kitchen and the successful industry partnership - though he confesses he's no star performer in this or any other kitchen.

"The partnership works really well with ESS. The chefs come in, they work with the pupils and what they are doing is enhancing our existing curriculum," he explains.

The school also has close links with Banff and Buchan College, whose staff deliver Skills for Work courses to third-year pupils. "Eventually, these pupils will be putting on events, inviting people to come in and see the school and use these facilities," says Mr Noble.

He confesses he has been barred from the kitchen at home after testing out one of his own recipes: "Many, many years ago when I was first married I said to my wife that I would cook the meal that night. At the end of the meal she said to me: 'I'll do the cooking from now on.' It was a mixture of macaroni, tuna fish and I put some kind of soup in to make the sauce. I thought it was quite good; it was one of my favourite student recipes."

Happily, his pupils are more talented in this particular direction and, as the morning goes on, fine smells are wafting from the ovens. One of the stars here is 16-year-old Bethany Buchan, who is in fifth year and won through to the Scottish Final of Future Chef last year.

She has been helped and encouraged by the team from ESS and her teachers here, but she found her early inspiration in the kitchen at home. "My granddad baked with me all the time when I was young. I must have started when I was about five," says Bethany. "Most of the time, it was little cup cakes with icing on the top. He had his own recipe and we bake it as well."

Granddad died a few years ago, but his recipe lives on and so does his passion for baking. "I'm teaching my little brother David Andrew now - he's 11 and he must have started when he was about eight years old," says Bethany, who wants to be a home economics teacher.

It's welcome news to Mrs Gatt who is short staffed but hoping to resolve her staffing problem long before Bethany graduates. She's also hoping the wonderful new kitchen will encourage applicants to help cope with the growing interest in home economics here. "We're a very, very friendly school, have a very welcoming staff and we do a lot of courses and have a lot of enthusiastic pupils - and we have a very beautiful kitchen," she says brightly.

Behind her, cinnamon scones are being rolled out and third-year pupils Lily-Ann Smith and Chay Morrison are deftly slotting trays of biscuits into the oven.

Robbie Robertson explains how he thinks the cameras will help his plans in the kitchen classroom. "We are going to do the demonstrations, then ask the children to cook and then we are going to record that.

"Once we record it, the next session is theory, which is going over what they've done, what the success stories are and what went wrong. So they actually get the correct feedback for going forward every time they do something."

The ESS team has run hospitality skills courses for first and second-year pupils. Older pupils have two sessions in 10 workshops over the year and learn knife skills, preparing and cooking vegetables, soups, bread and pasta making and desserts.

"We also do a part on fish. We take in a whole fish and show them how to prepare it - from taking the head off to trimming it, ready for filleting. Then we show them how to fillet it properly.

"They learn the four different cooking techniques of searing, grilling, pan roasting and poaching. After that, we teach them how to prepare a whole chicken."

The highlight of all this training is when the pupils prepare a five-course lunch unaided for invited guests, including MPs and leading business people.

"I step back, I don't do anything," says Mr Robertson. "They nominate a student from their own class to be head chef and they cook 26 covers on their own for five courses. They have done it twice and it was an absolutely rousing success. I am going to surprise them this year - I have one of the best-named chefs coming to eat their food."

Even in one of Scotland's best-known fishing ports, though, teachers struggle to persuade youngsters to work with fish. "When you mention fish to them, it's a big turn-off. It's as if they are scared to use it," says Mrs Gatt. "It's like - 'It smells, I don't want to touch it.'

"I encourage them and say: 'Look, it's not got any teeth, it's not going to bite you, it's not going to hurt you, it's dead.' We try and get round it by saying they can use tongs so they don't have to handle it. They do use them, but begrudgingly."

There is no doubt in this kitchen, this morning, that the pupils' favourite things are baking and making puddings, and their earliest mentors were their grandparents. Fourteen-year-old Chay Morrison started baking when he was 10: "I bake at my granny's most of the time. She taught me how to make queen cakes. I really like baking birthday cakes and when I cook at home, it's usually puddings."

Ovens are opening now and the results look and taste impressive - scrumptious scones and perfect puddings. Granny and granddad would be proud.

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