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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Schoolmeals-Repas a la Cantine-Kantinenessen


Altere Artikel (2002/3) - Themen: Schulkantinen-essen (Britische Schulen)
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Older article on the theme of Schoolmeals in British Schools.
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Ancienne article sur la thème des repas dans les Cantine des Ecoles Britannique
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Schoolmeals are a necessary evil. They let mum's (and dad's) get rid of junior for a goodly period of the day, whilst making sure he or she gets “something” to eat.
I recall, in my epoch, that we were all extremely happy to turn our bench tops flat (they had 3 or 4 positions, depending on what they were to be used for - one for eating, one for writing, one for drawing, one for caning....) at 12 noon, because this meant that the largely built (invariably) “dinner-ladies” were approaching, with the offering from the central kitchens, sometimes miles and miles away, but always prompt at noon.
We were ALL happy, because it meant the end of lessons for at least an hour, and it also meant that we were going to get something (for many of us for the first time in the day)to eat - of course the meals weren't served as in the photos, there were two choices - take it or leave it, and we always took it, because it was all we would get that day. 
Don’t forget, this is the early 50’s, the War has just recently "been won", rationing is still in force, money sparse, and the reputation of School-dinners hadn’t suffered yet.
Strange though it may seem, bearing in mind it was the only food I personally saw every day for 4 or 5 years, (the weekends we were “invited” to a church member who had food - and contacts) - I hardly recall anything at all of the content. I seem to recall, vaguely - a mixture of fresh fruit, mainly apples, mashed potatoes and a brownish juice they called gravy. What this gravy covered, I do not recall at all. 
I recall cauliflower covered in a white stuff, which recalled the Christmas pudding sauce, which I discovered in a later life... but was salty and not sweet, but what meat or fish was used – no recollection at all.
I recall also, being told (by older students-that meant a question of days or months older) that certain things were so good, that one should eat the portion served as quickly as possible, to get back in line for “seconds”. Sometimes, of course, this didn’t work, because the “Dinner-ladies” didn’t have any more ,probably because they liked it themselves, and then one regretted having bolted one’s portion down in record time! These “so good” things ALWAYS concerned sweet things, and things which were considered “exotic” at the time, like “diplomatic pudding”, or crème-custard with grated coconut, or simply crème-custard! I suspect their reputation came simply from the fact that they were made up of all the “luxury” items, like jam,sugar,eggs,coconut etc., unobtainable by normal channels.
Anyway, when I recently heard that chips and hamburgers were to be outlawed, I was surprised, because I didn’t know they were in! 
Having worked for short periods in the UK, and in Europe, in almost all “institutionalized” forms of cookery, such as School central canteens, Hospital central kitchens, Post Office Central canteen kitchens, etc…… I knew that so far as the quality of the material provided, in its raw state, was concerned, it was always of the best, and even the Chefs and cooks who prepared it were extremely capable and qualified persons. 
The problem ALWAYS lay in the organization, which was done by white-collar workers, who had, in short, NO BLOODY IDEA! Nowadays, they try to make it sound better by calling them "Executive Chefs", but that doesn't change anything, they remained the ones that have never had a serious argument with a boiled egg in their lifes, and never will have...
Chefs and Cooks were NEVER asked their opinions, nor were they (the professionals, after all) EVER asked what type of basic ingredient they would prefer (organic etc). We got what the idiots ordered, and had to make the best of it. A couple of examples?
I recall the first fresh trout that I prepared in a hospital.. Quality excellent, and I intended that it stay that way right into the eater’s stomach! 
A trout takes around 4 minutes each side of frying time (as meunière) and since I knew that it would be kept in large bain-maries for hours, I gave them only a light frying, to try and give the effect of crisp! 
Pointless, of course, since from 9am to 12 noon in a bain-marie kills everything, even me! 
I had, nonetheless, counted on the fact that once on the ward, everything was passed through the ward micro-wave oven, (3 minutes at full power gives the coup-de-grâce to anything delicate)
That day I got complaints that the trout weren’t cooked! 
From nurses, who shouldn’t have been eating the things! 
You see, if everybody stays within their own professionalism, there is no problem, always assuming there are professionals around - somewhere...! 
I wouldn’t have dreamt of performing nursing duties on their patients, although I probably would have done it a lot better than many nurses!
Higher up the echelon of white-collar persons, it was even worse. 
When suggesting that scrambled eggs made with real eggs may be tastier and better than the powder supplied, I got a stunned silence. 
I couldn’t know that the ancient “Big Chief” had done a special deal with a friend from somewhere else, and we now had the left-overs from 1914/18 in VERY large tins, enough of it to last us up to at least the turn of the century.
The system ruined good food, every day, and I don’t think that Jamie’s efforts will be able to avoid that continuing. 
Civil Servants are a strange breed of individual, and their personal power must be respected, even although they couldn’t tell a parsnip from a swede. Besides, what are we going to do with all the conserved Hamburgers left over from 1939/45 bought and purchased from old Civil Servant friends, at a very economical price?
Institution cookery will not change. Somehow or other even the Chefs and Cooks take on the personage of civil servants at the end of the day!
Good try though, Jamie. All you’ll have to do now, is to be present at all schools, at every meal, and it WILL change - even if it's just for the pleasure of being on the "telly"!    

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