Scottish School Food Awards winner Alastair MacDonald on his day cooking for Fettes College
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My morning alarm goes and I press snooze at least three times. Then I’m up and get ready to leave the house, with my chef jacket ironed and my neck tie packed. The neck tie is a key part of my uniform. Most chefs don’t wear one these days, but I feel lost and naked without it.
I leave the house, but not before I have made the biggest cup of tea for the 40-minute car journey into Edinburgh city centre. This is easily the worst part of my working day and tea really helps.
I arrive at Fettes College. As a boarding school we provide all meals throughout the entire day and the team is already set up for breakfast when I arrive. I always make a point of saying good morning to every member of staff with either handshakes or high fives. Respect goes a long way in the kitchen. We enjoy a one team approach with the kitchen and front of house working together to create a really productive environment.
The working day starts with a last cup of tea in my favourite mug.
Every morning begins with ensuring all the chefs know what is required of the day. We deliver vibrant and on-trend menus and create themed days to highlight different food cultures. Then it’s time to check on breakfast service for 600 students, before doing what I love best – preparing to cook lunch.
From now until 11am, I set up for a varied choice of three course lunch options to suit 1,000 hungry members of the Fettes family. This always includes two very large pots of soup and a range of main courses, which can be anything from poached salmon; chicken and chorizo paella to katsu chicken curry, not to mention the freshly made big salads which are always a hit.
We make sure the Westwoods Health Club grab and go refreshments are up to the highest of standards and sent over for gym members to refuel. They includes a wide range of snacks that include overnight oats, fresh scones, wraps, and fresh salads and sandwiches.
We set up the hotplates for lunch and start cooking. Operational staff arrive from 11.50am – though they are always early – and then I can have my lunch time briefing with assistant manager Michelle Nimmo and the team.
Lunch is in full swing. It is served to the whole school and we also organise any additional working lunches for meetings or guests. Around half-way through service I turn my attention to preparing orders, with assistance from our storeman at Fettes College. This involves getting everything ordered and in place for the following week. Shaun Ganson is like my right arm. He’s someone who works closely with me and reminds me of anything I might otherwise forget. Wherever possible we always use fresh ingredients and work closely with many local suppliers.
We call in all orders and catch up on any emails or matters that might have arisen throughout the day. Now I can take time to review any feedback that I’ve received from our students on the food committees, call our suppliers and speak to reps about seasonal treats that are coming up. We also discuss special days and events. We have a great relationship with all our local suppliers, from our butchers in Bonnyrigg to our favourite family-run fishmonger in Linlithgow. The quality and service we receive is always of high importance and we work in partnership with them to come up with new ideas – for example, we are about to introduce a series of seasonal and regional ‘hero’ ingredients to our menu, at least monthly.
This is when I catch up with James Wood, our catering manager at Fettes College. We will discuss ideas about new menu options, student events and special occasions such as the guest night dinners that are featured in our calendar. This time together allows us to continuously improve and be innovative.
Match teas are required for visiting sports teams and we involve Prep School students to work with us in the kitchen, so they can be part of delivering this offering, as this is a great opportunity to get them involved and give us their feedback. After this is finished, I make sure the back-shift team is ready for the dinner service for 600 of our students and that everything else is in place before I can think about heading off for the day.
I’m home after having spoken with family and friends on the hands-free phone in the car on my commute.
You might think that it’s time for me to start making dinner, but you’d be wrong. The fact that I’m cooking all day means I hardly ever want to turn on the oven at home, but I do enjoy treating my long-suffering girlfriend to a dinner out. I also love watching movies and trying to switch off by playing a game of football or golf.
It’s time to get a good night’s sleep, I have always loved my sleep and no matter what’s on my mind as soon as my head hits the pillow, it’s lights out.
For more information on the awards, which took place in October, see www.claymoreevents.com