Suffolk catering students pass the taste test

PUBLISHED: 10:52 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:03 20 February 2013

Suffolk catering students pass the taste test

Suffolk catering students pass the taste test

Cookery school owner Mark David sees how Suffolk New College is teaching the masterchefs of tomorrow

Cookery school owner Mark David sees how Suffolk New College is teaching the masterchefs of tomorrow

I was once a food and beverage lecturer in further education , so when I was asked to have a look at the Suffolk New College Training Restaurant, I was intrigued and agreed immediately.

Oh, how it has all changed. I was used to working in archaic conditions in old and creaking buildings with equally tired equipment. At Suffolk New College, good money has been wisely spent on what matters.

Shelleys is part of a two year old state-of-the-art building, a phoenix which has risen out of the ashes of the old Suffolk College near the docks in central Ipswich.

Whereas Suffolk One (the even newer college near Copdock) is more academic based, and University Campus Suffolk degree based, Suffolk New College is the centre of excellence for the service industry including hairdressing, fashion, art and design and the food and beverage industry. The whole building has been designed to inspire and uplift.

Based on a vast atrium as you enter, the various departments are situated mainly on upper floors overlooking the atrium.

Shelleys is a cleverly designed training restaurant with high tech kitchens on the first floor. From the start, the designers listened to the professionals (both chefs and front of house) and spent the money wisely. The kitchens are split into two separate rooms, one for preparation and teaching and an adjacent prep and service kitchen bristling with the best in range cookers, multi purpose ovens and grills, superb refrigeration.

The service kitchen connects with the restaurant with a twist! There are two wide screen tv monitors with fixed cameras in the restaurant which allow those eating to see from a discreet distance the kitchen students whizzing around constructing the meal. I asked the chef lecturer of the day, Greg Cheeseman, how this went down with his students. "They forget the camera" was his reply, "they are too busy cooking!"

I noticed that Gregs chefs whites were spotless. "My job is to direct rather like a conductor of an orchestra, my students play the music and I cue them in at the right moment! I tie my hands behind me and let them fly!"

His group for this particular evening class/meal were NVQ level 2, sufficiently trained to run the kitchen service under his careful and watchful eye without him butting in. I cast my eyes around the kitchen and noticed some wonderful ingredients being turned into what turned out to be a delicious dinner.

Real meat and fish stocks bubbling away, a succulent joint of local Dingley Dell pork belly just finishing its slow cooking session ready for service, succulent bass fillets being prepared for steaming and much more. Despite me getting in the way of the students, the atmosphere remained calm enough for Greg to show me the other teaching kitchen, complete with power point presentation facilities, masses of cookers and worktops and banks of utensils.

And so to the front! I was guided by Debbie Sewell, responsible for running the NVQ courses and general management of Shelleys. I was immediately very impressed by the softly lit modern restaurant carefully laid out with smart modern wooden tables (no linen cloths but with nice linen napkins giving a very relaxed feel), designed to serve three course full blown lunches and dinners as well as more informal eating for those who want a quick, inexpensive lunch and a glass of wine.

"We weave a path between what we have to do to cover curriculum needs and what the public would like," says Debbie.

"We need to show our students what is happening in the real world but we have to follow the teaching path."

The students on the NVQ course level 2 divide their time between cooking and serving the meals. So the ones who served us for dinner when we were there would be cooking on another day.

A logistical nightmare for rostering but allowing the students to make their own minds which direction they would like to follow in Year 3/Level 3.

Apart from the meal services, the students get involved in outside catering for larger numbers. In fact, the group we saw had just completed a drinks and canap reception for 100 people at lunchtime. There is also the McCoys Bar area (run by the students) with well stocked bar and a Light Lunch Menu.

And so to our meal. I was joined by Annie, my wife, so my meal was not lonely! The choice on each course reflected the trouble taken to construct an exciting and eclectic mix.

I chose duck and beetroot consomme with wild mushroom tortellini. So light and subtle, delicious and colourful.

Annie had the gorgonzola polenta fritter, crispy and tasty with a spicy rocket salad and flash fried sliced mushroom, well presented. (Could have taken more gorgonzola, but thats a matter of taste).

I wish I had been able to try the fresh mackerel soused in saffron and orange with a chicory, fennel and kohlrabi salad. For main course I chose the steamed bass fillet with a warm smoked bacon, new potato, broad bean and purslane salad with a seaweed vinaigrette. Brilliantly subtle and light, I detected a hint of fresh coriander too. Annie chose the poached Suffolk chicken breast with a farce of ricotta and basil and served with a tarragon veloute sauce.

Very difficult to get chicken right (particularly the breast). They hit the spot, the meat was juicy, the stuffing delicious and the sauce tasty. Each main course served with perfectly cooked fresh vegetables.

The other mains on offer were the slow cooked belly pork (local supplier) with seared scallop and pumpkin puree, and canon of lamb with minted puree, wild garlic potato cakes and a redcurrant jus. For those who prefer not to eat meat, the Quorn and vegetable tagine sounded good.

We could only face one dessert so we chose strawberry gateau St Honore. I remember a rather heavy version with a cumbersome pastry cream which was a sweet trolley regular in the 60s.

This was much better, an individual choux pastry bun filled with a lovely strawberry cream, simple and very tasty. I was tempted by the others, a wicked steamed banana and chocolate pudding, baked chocolate tart and lime and ginger savarin. I bet they would have been as good as my choice.

The wine list was simple but with a good choice of countries and styles. We chose an Australian Chardonnay/Viognier mix (white). Served in nice very clean wine glasses and kept cool in an ice bucket.

The service by the students was supervised by a newly appointed member of staff who assessed the students throughout the meal and a Level 3 student who acted as restaurant manager.

For those of you who are unaware of Shelleys as a public restaurant, give it a try, you wont be disappointed and you will be helping the students on their learning journey. Parking is plentiful in front of the college. Prices are pitched at a level so as not to conflict with local restaurants.

Lunch round 10 for three courses (you can just eat one main course for about 5)

Dinner either 10 or 15 for three courses and coffee depending on the day you go, see their website for details.

Shelleys Restaurant

Suffolk New College,

Ipswich IP4 1LT

Tel: 01473 382500


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