Kitchen Upgrade: Growing Gains

13/10/2017 - 11:20
Caterer Wilson Vale and kitchen specialist Catering Design Group teamed up to transform the catering facilities at independent school The Beacon.

When the growing The Beacon in Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, an independent preparatory day school for boys aged four to 13 years, needed to expand its catering facilities it had a particular challenge: the 15th-century dining hall is a listed building.

The contract catering company Wilson Vale worked closely with kitchen specialist Catering Design Group (CDG) to manage the sensitive £280,000 project, which was finished at the end of 2016.

The results, as far as the school is concerned, have been very welcome.

Edward Stothard, bursar at The Beacon, says: “The new facility is already having a huge impact on both the staff and pupils, reducing queuing times, and enhancing the presentation of the food, whilst also making it a talking point.

“The investment is also reaping the benefits from a marketing point of view, when showing around prospective parents.”

Stothard says the school has “a tremendous sense of caring and nurturing”.

“It’s not just about where everyone gathers to eat; it’s also an educational experience for the boys to learn about the importance of nutrition and making healthy eating choices,” he explains.

“Additionally, we also want to cultivate a love of good food. We are absolutely delighted with the end result. CDG completely delivered on the brief, creating flexibility across both front- and back-of-house within the constraints of a listed building.”

Having experienced continued year-on-year growth in pupil numbers and with limited space in the existing kitchen and servery, the school recognised that it needed to upgrade and expand.

Commissioned by Wilson Vale, the brief to CDG was to redesign the existing kitchen and servery areas to accommodate not only the increasing numbers, but also the school’s forward-thinking values and the caterer’s fresh-food ethos.

In addition, the 15th-century listed dining hall is considered “the beating heart of the school”, so it was important the designs reflected the school’s attitude to caring and nurturing, while also providing an educational experience for the boys.

A new extension was built to house the kitchen facility and a temporary solution provided for the duration of the three-month build.

Stothard adds: “Flexibility was key across back-of-house. The kitchen design has a modern approach incorporating the latest Frima technology and Rational combination ovens, to ensure the caterers were able to produce a wide variety of menu items.

“The space and layout were improved to maximise operational efficiency, giving the catering team the ability to demonstrate their craft skills.”

The new space was required to accommodate large volumes at peak times: approximately 530 pupils, 100 teaching and administration staff, plus a busy hospitality service for evening functions.

In a single week the catering operation can now be called upon to serve 3,000 school lunches, 100 breakfasts, fine dining for 24 school governors and up to 300 match teas.

In the dining area, CDG created a contemporary, interactive experience for both pupils and staff. A new state-of-the-art servery was created to showcase the fresh, seasonal ingredients and the back-of-house team at work.

The servery includes pull-down heat lamps on the hot counter, rather than heated gantries, to add to the feeling of openness while also creating a warmer, softer look.

The design features a window through to the baking area so that pupils could watch their cakes being made. And it replicates the school’s brand colours, all the way through to the stackable chairs, chosen to save space and to ensure maximum flexibility of the space.

Alan Beddie, managing director of Wilson Vale, says: “We have a longstanding partnership with CDG, having worked with them on many projects within the independent education sector, so we had every confidence that they would deliver, both operationally and aesthetically.

“Their expertise and established reputation in both the education and heritage sectors meant they knew exactly what was needed to fulfil the brief.

“The new facility showcases our focus on craft skills, nutrition and seasonality to encourage healthy eating choices, and a love of great food at The Beacon School.”

Philip Howard, managing director of CDG, comments: “This was a challenging but hugely rewarding project for the team. The planning and heritage restrictions meant we had to overcome some hurdles, which were quickly resolved with smart, practical solutions.

“For front-of-house it was important that we created a vibrant and stimulating environment, where the benefits of choosing a healthy, balanced meal were showcased in an engaging way for the pupils.

“As the engine room of every catering operation, it was vital that the equipment and design were both efficient and flexible to meet Wilson Vale’s operational requirements and cope with the school’s continued growth.”

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