Well-known already for the delicious meals they serve up to students and staff at Gordon’s, the catering team is now taking on the best chefs in the UK at International Salon Culinaire.
The cohort of taste wizards from the state boarding school in Woking, Surrey is believed to be the only school entry at what is considered to be the UK’s largest and most prestigious chef competition programme.
In front of a live audience at London’s ExCel, Chef Enzo Castiglione will have just half an hour to produce two portions of perfect fresh pasta with a sauce.
Meanwhile Jamie Regent will be transforming a trimmed rack of lamb into two main course lamb dishes within 45 minutes.
And another Gordon’s chef, Stuart Turner will be competing for the Master Chefs Great Britain Challenge in which he will have just 30 minutes in which to prepare, cook and present two portions of a seafood dish to a competitor’s choice using sustainable seafood.
Gordon’s Head of Catering Paul Hopkins says their dishes, which will be sampled the country’s top chefs, are ones they are already producing for the school’s students at lunch and supper.
He and his team serve up nearly 2,000 meals every weekday at the school in West End, Surrey to hungry students and staff (that’s as well as providing for match teas; ad hoc BBQ’s; black tie dinners; formal lunches and weekend food for Residential Boarders!).
“We are already satisfying our toughest critics, the students” says Paul. “Now is the time to see what the experts say”.
On any given day the menu they typically serve to the students and staff at Gordon’s resembles one of a good restaurant. Sea bass and samphire mingle alongside Asian style salmon with pak choi or roasted root vegetable risotto butternut squash complete with a parmesan crisp. Inevitably there is home-made soup and meals are topped off with yoghurts, fresh fruit and and cheese and biscuits.
And the school is leading the way in reducing sugar, salt, portion sizes and its carbon footprint! It is also encouraging its students to make healthy choices.
While Government targets have been set at reducing sugar by 20 per cent this year, the levels at Gordon’s School have been cut by almost 70 per cent.
With a background in Michelin starred restaurants and director’s dining rooms, Head of Catering Paul Hopkins brings a wealth of experience to the dining room.
“All the meals are healthy and balanced with particular regard to vegans, vegetarians and allergies,” says Paul, adding that each one is meticulously planned so ensure the right balance of protein and carbohydrates. Superfoods; oily fish and grains are very much a part of his menus too.
While the teachers plough through the curriculum, Paul sees his job as very much educating their palates.
“It’s all very well doing cottage pie but a nice dish from Malaysia or Thailand gives them a better education”, he says, adding: “If we do it right and cook well, they will eat anything!”
While Paul and his team occasionally pander to the typical teenage diet of hamburgers; chips and pizzas, the hamburgers are handmade using good quality beef and the pizzas are also homemade using “as many vegetables as possible” in the tomato sauce topping with quality mozzarella. The steak night, popular with the Residential Boarders provides them with the finest beef.
And while cakes and desserts feature, the brownies will contain beetroot and the muffins filled with carrot and courgette. The yoghurts are also home-made as are the smoothies and bread. Everything is fresh, nothing frozen.
Evening meals are based around street food and contemporary cuisine to make their food more interesting. To this end, students might expect Mexican; Thai and West African cuisine on the menu.
Gordon’s already tops schools academically and sits in the top one per cent of schools in England and Wales for progress at A Levels. The school is also known for his sporting prowess and creative arts. Paul also has ambitions for the kitchens: “We are aiming to get the culinary department at Gordon’s on the map!” he asserts.