Reality show - A crash course in television dinners

6th December 2013 at 00:00
West Lothian students serve up plenty of food for thought

Some don't eat vegetables, most have never cooked a meal, but 27 students in their final year at Linlithgow Academy in West Lothian have used their school kitchen to open a "guilt-free takeaway".

Now their bid to introduce something a bit different to the fast-food market - cheap, healthy, seasonal Scottish food - has been turned into a three-part BBC television series called Teen Canteen.

Eve, a member of the Teen Canteen management group, tells the cameras she is "not a kitchen dweller" but it can't be "rocket science". Standing beside her and just home from a day at work, Eve's mum prepares the evening meal.

Working parents across the country may feel their hackles rise but there is still a lot to endear this group of 17-year-olds to the viewer in the first episode, as they settle on the kind of food they want to sell and raise the start-up cash for their venture.

Certainly the Linlithgow students are far more appealing than those found in the BBC's better-known series about fostering entrepreneurial talent, The Apprentice. Far from being drunk on self-confidence, whether they are mashing potatoes or skinning a smoked haddock these teenagers generally don't think they will succeed until - well, until they do.

They are also willing to take advice from and be influenced by their mentors, who include businessman Hamish Taylor and catering expert and chef Fi Buchanan.

Letting in a film crew was a risk, Linlithgow Academy's headteacher, David MacKenzie said. But it was one he was willing to take to improve students' experience of S6.

Linlithgow Academy is situated in an affluent area and 55 per cent of its 1,200 students achieve three or more awards at Higher level by the end of S5. The Scottish average is 27 per cent.

With so many students having achieved the qualifications they needed before S6, the result could be a "less focused" final year, Mr MacKenzie said.

"I saw (the programme) as an opportunity to do something a little bit different and really test the children in areas that are not usually tested through their normal subjects," he added.

He wanted to make his students more employable, developing their ability to think for themselves, make decisions, communicate and work in a team. He was also attracted by the idea of making better use of "a huge asset" - namely the school kitchens - which lay dormant from 2pm.

It took some time to get everyone on board after Glasgow media company Finestripe Productions came to him with the concept for the programme in October last year. Mr MacKenzie had to convince his staff, parents and the local council that the programme was not going to be another fly-on-the- wall documentary about a school in the Educating Essex or Educating Yorkshire vein.

Ultimately he succeeded. Filming took place from January to March this year, culminating in a week when the students' business, Scottish Soul Food, ran after school from 3.40pm to 8pm. The bulk of the students' pound;5,000 profit from this venture has gone to charity, including pound;1,000 to the West Lothian Foodbank.

The scale of the project meant that Teen Canteen was "definitely a one- off", Mr MacKenzie said. However, he added that he was determined to inject more purpose into S6 by introducing further work experience and volunteering projects along similar lines, albeit on a smaller scale.

"After all the hard work in S5, a more relaxed S6 is almost considered a birthright, and that can be for parents as well as pupils," he said. "We need to break that cycle."

Teen Canteen continues on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Two. For more information and teaching resources, visit bit.lyBBCcanteen.

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