By David Thomas, Lead Chef at Aurora St Christopher’s School.
The Recipe for Happy Students.
I first joined the school back in 2014 caring for a child with autism. In a previous life, I’d worked as a manager in an Independent Coffee Shop, but I never imaged back then that I could combine my two passions, caring and food.
Fast forward four years and here I am heading up the catering team at the school and bringing an enthusiasm for fresh food with good provenance to our wonderful students.
Food has the power to fuel the body and the soul and that’s why I think it’s critical that we take the time to create the best menus for our students and residents at St Christopher’s.
The menu is as varied as the needs of those it caters for – we want to provide real choice for young people.
Of course, that’s tempered by a need to encourage healthy eating and balance. Like any young person, if you ask what their favourites are they love the usual chips, burgers and baked beans. I believe there’s nothing wrong with that in moderation and Fridays tend to involve these as a treat!
Our menu works on a four-week rotation offering a variety of textures, colours, flavours and sensations that peak interest, encourage people to try new things and impact the senses - which is so important for those with autism.
Some like the sensation of spice in the mouth whilst others make it quickly clear whether that’s their particular choice!
Taking into account the government’s guidelines for limiting children’s intake of sugar during the day, I’ve introduced alternative tastes and textures into dishes to help young people make better choices; like cous cous salad with raisins to provide pockets of sweetness for them to enjoy and root vegetables glazed with honey. Fruit is on offer during lunchtime and desserts are only served for the evening meal.
I’m also keen to ensure that we keep learning and improving the food experience at St Christopher’s.
Just last month, I signed the school up to Food for Life – established by The Soil Association.
This programme is all about transforming food culture – making healthy, tasty and nutritious meals the norm, reconnecting people with where food comes from, learning how it’s grown and cooked and understanding the importance of well-sourced ingredients.
We’re now working towards the Food for Life Bronze award to prove that we are putting all this theory into practice in the meals we serve at St Christopher’s.
This initiative has also led to a collaboration with Pukka – a local company, but famous the world over for their beautiful and exotic teas.
Last month we hosted an event with Pukka who kindly donated a herb planter, five varieties of seeds and compost for us to start our own mini herb garden. It was great fun and I can’t wait to start cooking with the fruits of the students' labour!
Sourcing ingredients from local Bristol community suppliers is also part of the food chain for us. This includes local butcher M J Daltons, the longest running Butchers on Gloucester Road, Degusta for fruit, vegetables and dairy products and Essential Trading ethical wholesalers providing dietary and organic foods such as chickpeas, ground almonds and local honey.
I want to finish by giving credit to the whole staff team. Their support has been immense in embracing this new approach and getting young people involved and trying new things.
I truly believe that food has a critical role to play in the transformational work we do here at Aurora St Christopher’s and I look forward to many more years of taste inventions and healthy meals!
The Aurora Group
The Aurora Group is an innovative provider of education and care for children and adults with special needs.