Recipes for success

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
THE DELI. Menorah grammar school, north London

Lunchtimes at Menorah involve a visit to a delicatessen - but without leaving the premises. This independent Jewish boys' secondary school has set up its own catering operation, in which students aged 14 and over work for NVQs in food preparation and service by cooking and serving lunch to 150 pupils.

The Deli was launched after a student in the school's special needs department (known as the Darchei Noam centre, which means "ways of pleasantness") was due to start a catering course that then folded. Staff at Menorah decided they would set up a course for him themselves.

With guidance from nearby Barnet College, and volunteer labour from parents and students, they renovated a disused kitchen and dining room, and hired specialist catering tutors to lead the daily cooking.

The school also took advice from occupational therapists on specific student needs, such as large pizza cutters and protective gloves for students with dyspraxia. Autistic students and those with language delay are supported doing counter service, so they can still be part of the Deli's lunchtime rush.

Students and staff launched a daily menu of soups, vegetarian and fish main courses, and puddings. On Wednesdays they double their output, cooking an extra 150 servings of fish and chips for primary school children from the Menorah Foundation school, which is on the same site.

The venture has proved so popular that mainstream GCSE and A level students from the school now come into the Deli to work alongside the Darchei Noam students. The NVQ students spend 12 hours a week in the kitchen or doing related theory; all of them also take food hygiene and health and safety certificates.

All the food and food preparation at The Deli is kosher, but the menu is not usually traditionally Jewish - "though we do cook potato latkes", says Rabbi Michael Zimmer, the centre's head.

The school is developing interest among potential employers: one autistic student already has a placement in a bakery; and a kosher airline meals company has offered to support others.

Ofsted inspectors, visiting recently to look at the school's overall special needs provision, were invited to a food tasting in the kitchens, and were so impressed that they invited Menorah students to put together a buffet menu for kosher delegates at an Ofsted interfaith conference.

The menu was approved and The Deli's students were awarded the work. Then, on the day of the conference, they saved the inspectorate's blushes when they were also able to feed the Muslim delegates - for whom halal food had not been provided.

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