Teamwork makes the dreamwork
Major International talk to Sheila Verrall from The Philip Morant School about her career, her real inspiration for creating mouthwatering recipes and how she continually fights the stigma attached to unhealthy school dinners.
Upon entering the busy kitchen of the large secondary school, one thing stands out above anything else, the hustle and bustle of a cracking team of ladies who all love getting up and coming to work every day. With friendly banter and a great feeling of camaraderie, it's clear to see that teamwork is the key in this working kitchen. Not only do they work like Trojans from the minute they enter until the minute they leave……they do it with a smile!
Of the 16 kitchen staff employed by the school, not one seems to be shy of hard work. However, it's fair to say that the morale seen in this catering hall is down to one key player, Catering Manager Sheila Verrall. Her strong motivational attitude provides a real sense of direction for this workforce and you couldn't find a more passionate, enthusiastic leader whose main goal is to "create outstanding dishes using the finest produce and ingredients." Sheila has implemented the mindset that attention to detail is key and with that comes her selection of products used daily in her busy kitchen.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
Eight years ago, we made the transition from using contract caterers to 'in-house’ catering at Philip Morant. Previously we were working at a cost of £86,000 to the school and running at a loss but we have since turned things around so that we are now making a considerable profit, enabling us to re-invest into the catering operation. This is certainly something I'm very proud of.
We, as a team pride ourselves on the food offered, in terms of presentation, taste and service that we provide to students and staff. Year on year we see an increase in the uptake of the food. Currently we have on average 67% of students eating school meals, the national average is 42%, so I believe the figures speak for themselves. We have a total of 1644 pupils at the school aged between 11-18 and 170 teaching and support staff on site. In a 20 minute break and a 50 minute lunch, we have around 1650 transactions through our cashless system.
What’s the secret to your ongoing success?
To keep the food offer and service to an optimum, we purchase premium products. Strict time and cost constraints within school catering is always a challenge as we need to keep the costs down, but still make the food exciting. Students are used to eating out and we need to bring the ‘high street’ into school lunches.
By using quality ingredients from Major such as the Stock Pastes, Powders, Marinades and Gravies I'm able to do this with ease. Not only do I get more from my products, the flavours are sensational. With the emergence of street food and children becoming better travelled, we need to keep at the top of our game with tastes from around the world. The Major Marinades provide me with everything I need to produce these kinds of menus, not only in terms of taste, but also the amazing visual point of sale material provided by Major absolutely free!
When did you start using Major products?
I began using the products in September after spending two days with Major National Accounts Manager, Stephen Smith. He explained and advised me on the dishes that he thought would suit us at Philip Morant. He then went on to produce a folder full of easy to read recipes, all developed by Major Executive Development Chef Brian Eastment. These recipes utilised the products and he spent a day with my team demonstrating how simple and versatile the range really is. We incorporated the Marinades into our existing menu and following the training, were able to add more exciting ideas too, in turn raising the bar with our food offering. We receive many compliments on our food, comments on the enhanced flavours, and the menu choice. When asked "What's the best thing about Philip Morant?" The students will often say "The Food!" For me is the best feedback I could get!
What are your favourite Major products to use?
Where do I possibly start? I love them all! In our kitchen the Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, and Cheese Stock bases are essential. The Cheddar Cheese paste makes the most amazing cheese sauce and it has meant we've been able to ditch the "tons" of grated cheddar we used before. We use it daily in the pasta sauces and lasagnes, the flavour is amazing, where else can you get mature cheddar by the spoonful!! I also use the other stock bases and powders in so many recipes that are loved by the students.
With regards to the marinades, I use the Caribbean Jerk, Barbecue, Mediterranean, Honey, Lemon and Mustard, Fajita, and Piri-Piri in my dishes, as it's so easy to transform a simple dish into something quite exotic. I just marinate raw meat, brush onto cooked meat, add to a mayonnaise for the sandwiches and paninis, brush it into the pizzas or brush directly onto the chicken or beef burgers. The possibilities are endless!
The Major Gravies are a must have too. The flavour of the new Poultry Gravy is really intense and all are gluten-free with no artificial additives or preservatives, which is great for when we have to identify the allergens in December 2014.
The Fruit Bases go down well in our kitchen too. We have a fabulous onsite baker who makes fresh cakes, cookies, sponges and bread daily. She simply mixes in, brushes on, or adds them to custards, creams or icing to completely change the flavour of the deserts. Mo uses each of the four fruit bases to make her job much easier and to keep our costs of fresh fruit down. She is able to add extra fruitiness and depth to the dishes, in turn, creating mouthwatering recipes every day for the students. She can't wait for the three new flavours of Lemon, Lime and Mango to arrive very soon!
What makes your job easier?
There are a number of things that make our day-to-day life a bit simpler. One being the suitability chart which is provided free. This is easy to read, and comes in very handy for menu planning as it lists the 14 different allergens.
There's a library loaded with recipes on the Major website which is invaluable, saving me a huge amount of time and effort. Children are not great with change so implementing these small menu changes slowly following the library has meant that the children are embracing it in a very positive way.
The support and marketing has been fantastic too. Bespoke display boards and graphics have being designed personally for us using our actual dish shots as images so the children know exactly what they're getting. We really couldn't have asked for more!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My pet hate is the portrayal by the media of "school dinners, dinner ladies and canteens." Just the wording annoys me! I can honestly say we are worlds apart from that and I'm incredibly proud of what my team achieves on a daily basis. We are fortunate enough to be able to continually upgrade our kitchen with new equipment, crockery, cutlery, service and counter dishes. This keeps us at the top of our game.
We have certainly upgraded our food by introducing Major products into our pantry and plan to introduce a noodle bar into the atrium, using the fabulous recipes supplied by the Major team!