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Event Profile: The Scottish School Food Awards at Merchiston Castle School

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Event Profile: The Scottish School Food Awards at Merchiston Castle School

Event Profile: <strong>The Scottish School Food Awards at Merchiston Castle School</strong>
March 27
10:17 2023

Last autumn, Claymore Events hosted the inaugural Scottish School Food Awards. Unique to Scotland’s education sector, the event celebrated the highest quality foodservice, sustainability and well-being initiatives in schools across the state-run, public and private sectors. spoke with Jonathan Anderson, Head Teacher at Edinburgh’s Merchiston Castle School, to find out why they were keen to host the inaugural event…

Why did Merchiston decide to get involved?

Nutrition plays a key role in performance, when studying, socialising and during physical exercise, and so the food in schools must be balanced, nutritious and tempting.

The Chartwells Independent team at Merchiston works closely with key staff, academy programmes and sports coaches, as well as with the pupil committee, to ensure our menus meet everyone’s needs. We believe that food feeds the boys’ minds and keeps them motivated and happy.

What made Merchiston such a good venue for the first ever School Food Awards?

Compass Scotland managing director, David Hay, with Phoebe Lawson as she collected her award for Student Chef of the Year 2022

For an event that focuses on education catering, we believe there was no better place to host the inaugural ceremony. From the sprawling grounds to the iconic backdrop, the school lends itself beautifully as a venue with classical design and a real versatility. As well as providing the ideal setting, the focus on food, nutrition and wellbeing at Merchiston is legendary.

Did you do anything special or different for it?

It was agreed that the awards should take place in the Memorial Hall, a room that we traditionally use for school assemblies rather than events. Situated some distance from the kitchen, which itself is located on a different level, the hall posed a logistical challenge for the team; the solid oak pews had to be removed and stored in order to make space for tables and chairs for the 160 guests, and a separate service area was created upstairs where the courses were plated.

Broadcaster Kaye Adams (centre front) presented the School Food Awards on the evening of 27th October 2022

The porter and catering teams worked seamlessly together and we simply couldn’t have done it without them, nor indeed without Rob Bryson, our head of grounds maintenance who ensured the facilities were ready. It was a supreme effort from the entire school community.

The food was obviously a highlight. What did you do to make it special?

The Chartwells Independent team worked alongside chefs from the Compass Culinary World Cup Team. Chartwells is the schools and education catering division of Compass Group UK and Ireland. Featuring in-season sustainable produce, the ‘plant-forward’ menu included a starter of pickled heritage carrot, containing all the parts of a carrot that would normally be thrown away, such as tops and peelings.  As is standard for Compass Scotland, all the ingredients were chosen for seasonality – which delivers the best tasting and most sustainable produce – and with limiting food waste front of mind.

The catering and front of house teams were also supported on the day by Compass Scotland apprentices, who prepared the canapes for the evening and helped waiting staff.

What were the most significant challenges faced by the school and staff?

The school’s partnership with Chartwells Independent allowed the teams to work seamlessly together to produce an awards ceremony that felt, from a planning perspective, like it wasn’t the first time we had staged this event – even though, technically, it was. With the additional challenges of hosting it in the Memorial Hall, the teams relied on advance planning and clear communication on the night. At the event many guests complimented the staff, the service, the event management and, above all, the food.

Food for thought: Chartwells Independent, the education arm of Compass UK & Ireland, took charge of the meal at the inaugural Scottish School Food Awards

Ultimately, it was great to see the full school community come together to make the inaugural awards a success. During term time Merchiston functions as a school but our incredible venue and team can be used in many different ways to create unique events, from weddings and evening dinner dances to charity fundraisers, residential courses and rehearsal spaces. Occupying a unique position in a quiet, secluded but accessible area of the capital, the school provides the ideal location for events of all sizes and nature. Working hand in hand with our catering partner, Chartwells Independent, we have absolute confidence in delivering events of the highest calibre.

After the awards this year we received a letter from the organisers, thanking us for our participation and assistance in hosting the ceremony. Within this note they commented that even though they plan to move the awards to different schools around the country in the coming years, they will always recall, reference and remember the special inaugural event at Merchiston in 2022. I think that says it all.

Transforming Life at School, One Dish at a Time

In 2019, the dining hall at Merchiston Castle School underwent a total refit, with the former dining room changing into a social hub for lunch and supper time. In addition to the fitting of hot counters with dropdown heat lamps that offer a clear view of the dishes, the refit included two central island counters with a salad bar, and a separate bread-and-soup station.

Chartwells worked with the chef team to create a food offering that is full of passion and life, with a strong emphasis on healthy and good eating. This includes a completely plant-based, vegan salad offer, which the boys devour, alongside favourites such as hearty soups and a delicious new range of main dishes from across the globe, to ensure a nutritionally balanced meal at every service. 

One of the most popular food offers has been the Fish Tails concept, served every Friday, in a departure from traditional fish and chips. Every dish is made by the chef to a restaurant standard and pupils have since commented that they love the lighter meal alternative, as it can help them to focus in class. In fact, the concept has been so popular that the kitchen team has gone from serving 40 Fish Tails dishes every Friday, to over 150. That’s quite a catch.

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Catering Scotland

Catering Scotland

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