28 Nov '19

‘In the Kitchen’ with Katherine Bridge

Katherine Bridge is a talented and inspiring school chef who made it to the final of LACA School Chef of the Year 2019. She also joined us on our food tour in the summer to share her views on the industry, and the traditional Manchester Tart she brought with her for all our guests was just delicious. We wanted to learn more about her current role and hopes for the future so put her in our ‘In the Kitchen’ spotlight.

Tell us about your current role and career history

I currently work as cook manager for HCL at Breachwood Green Junior, Infant and Nursery School where I’ve been for the last two and a half years. My career took a slightly different path to many as I started off as a buyer, firstly in fashion and then marketing. However, I wanted to take a career break to have my girls and so I set up an afternoon tea business with a friend. This was very successful, and I focused on that for six years. My next role was as a kitchen assistant in a school, but I continued making celebration cakes and supplied local businesses. Within three months at the school, when Universal Infant Free School meals were introduced, I was made assistant cook and three years later a cook. My life in the world of food started as a hobby, then became a business followed by a full-time job.

Describe what it’s like to work in your kitchen

I’m on my own for most of the day as we only produce between 60 and 80 meals. It’s a village school so it’s very quiet and sedate but I have an assistant who comes in for service as that’s when it gets busy. I have a school garden at the back of the kitchen so have purchased herbs to grow and use in the dishes which is lovely. I’ve also got an apple tree which I can use in the autumn for produce.

Tell us more about your approach to food

My real passion is on the baking side and I love making any types of cakes and biscuits.Presentation is really important to me, so I always try to make things look beautiful with a lot of colour and garnish. For me, it’s about the little details, so I’ll cut things differently and really focus on making the dish look as appealing as possible.

Why did you choose to work in the education sector?

I wanted a job that would fit in with my family and I found that I really loved it. In fact, I was surprised how much I liked being around the children and discovering what fun they are to work with. My view is if you are going to cook good food then surely children are the best people to cook for. You can help shape their future health and food choices which I find really satisfying.

What do you love most about this sector?

Kids are very honest, but I just love producing healthy and nutritious meals for them. There are some challenges such as budgets and I am limited in terms of suppliers, with working for a big company. However, I absolutely see this as a positive challenge and just love being able to keep things interesting, within those constraints.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your kitchen?

It has to be budget and especially because I am working in a small school. I don’t have the economies of scale like some chefs do with a bigger kitchen, so I really need to make sure there is as little waste as possible. This can be hard in a small school.

What is your biggest hope for the future for chefs?

A part of me thinks that hospitality being in the media spotlight has glamorised the role of a chef and perhaps the view of what it is like to work in a kitchen. I’d like to see a more realistic view of what it’s really like being shown in the media so people can make good choices.

There is a shortage of chefs in London and it sounds like people are training up but expecting something quite different from the role. I believe it’s up to senior chefs to be more encouraging and make this job more attractive, so chefs stay within the industry.

Tell us about your career highlight

As far as cooking is concerned, it has to be the LACA School Chef of the Year where I won my regional heat. As a national finalist, I went on The One Show and worked at Fortnum and Mason with LACA’s Host a School Chef initiative. I also loved my day out on the Manchester Food Tour. It’s been a really interesting year for me.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a chef?

I was lucky enough to go to Dubai at Easter and I went to Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. I was chatting to the executive chef and he told me that it was because of his school chef that he got into cooking. He worked his way up the ladder and can now cook anywhere in the world. For young people the opportunities, if you work hard as a chef, can take you anywhere. You should always aim high and think big.

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