Rhondda Cynon Taf in Aberdare is Wales’ first ‘super school’, courtesy of a merger between three local high schools. Its early success is now being used as a blueprint for other projects, right down to its catering facilities and modern approach to school food provision. FEJ reports.
Most schools have a system in place to cater for dozens if not hundreds of pupils, but when you’ve got more than 1,400 mouths to feed every day your catering operation has got to be absolutely on point. That’s certainly the case for Aberdare Community School, which is part of Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s £50m leisure and school complex, and opened two years ago through the amalgamation of Aberdare Boys School, Aberdare Girls School and Blaengwawr Comprehensive.
Backed by £15m from the Welsh government’s 21st Century Schools and Education Programme, the three-storey ‘super school’ is a far cry from the traditional view of a typical comprehensive and boasts everything from ‘break out’ areas for independent learning away from the classrooms to iPad-equipped rooms for tablet-driven education in internet cafes. With a double-atrium design, the school also has a recording studio, which the public can hire, an open area with a giant projector to screen big events, a gym and a dance area. It even has an astronomy and art area on the top floor to make the most of the landscape.
This new and novel approach also extends right through to the catering operation. Pupils, staff and visitors can either choose a hot, plated meal or a ‘grab and go’ option from one of the food bars, while the ‘canteen’ itself has been transformed into more of a vibrant and relaxed food court with soft furnishings and potted plants. The school also operates two satellite coffee shop areas, which are popular with sixth formers and sell proper ‘bean to cup’ coffee through to homemade muffins and snacks.
At the heart of the operation is the school’s spacious kitchen, created by catering and leisure design consultancy ABM, which engaged the catering team and head teacher from the outset. Graham Harrison, project manager at ABM, said that environmental factors played a part in the design of the scheme: “The builders were looking closely at BREEAM and where they could score energy saving and sustainability points throughout the project, which had to be factored in with the kitchen design and the equipment we selected.”
“The equipment has been very successful and we will be looking to buy more in the future”
One of the key brands that the school relies on is MKN and the company’s prime cooking equipment is core to getting food out on time and being able to offer a wide variety of dishes. In addition to the 20.1 MagicPilot combi ovens that it is using, the school decided to adopt the German manufacturer’s FlexiChef appliance as a way to speed up the cooking process and pave the way for a broader choice of ‘homemade recipes’ on the school menu.
Whether the team is pressure cooking, griddling or boiling, the FlexiChef uses pressure and horizontal cooking technology to create a whole host of meals without the need for multiple pieces of equipment, performing three times faster than conventional techniques and twice as fast as other pressure cookers to reduce cooking time by 85%.
While faster cooking times alone can offer impressive energy savings, MKN claims the FlexiChef requires a 40% lower connected load than other similar horizontal cooking technology brands. Alongside impressive energy efficiency credentials, the FlexiChef accommodates the need to produce large volumes of food at a consistently high standard, quickly and easily — perfect for busy school kitchens such as Aberdare, which are catering for a very high volume of covers.
Being able to turn around dishes in a third of the time, combined with the FlexiChef’s fast self-cleaning programme, means that recipes that would have previously been too time-consuming to entertain are now an option, leading the school to be able to offer greater variety all round.
Alyson Rees, the council’s principal officer for school catering services, said the equipment has transformed the way its kitchen operates and confirmed it plans to invest in further plant off the back of its performance. “The FlexiChef has been very successful and we will be looking to buy more in the future.”
Dining is a huge numbers game for Aberdare School, but it has shown that with the right equipment and correct specification, it is more than capable of dealing with the huge volumes thrown at it every day.
Key equipment priorities
When Aberdare School decided to bring in the latest multifunctional cooking technology it wanted to achieve two key things:
- Dramatically speed up the cooking process
- Increase the variety of homemade recipes on the menu