Mark Heard runs an immaculate kitchen at London’s King Edward V11 Hospital, overseeing a menu of carefully-planned and freshly-cooked restaurant-standard food.
2020 has thrown up unprecedented challenges for healthcare catering and Heard has ensured that new protocols have been added to the already robust list of practices it follows.
Although it deals in private care, the hospital has opened its doors to NHS patients as well this year, requiring the brigade to adapt its menu offer and support both kitchen and clinical staff. Heard has now been at the hospital for 18 years, taking on a post there after serving a full career in the RAF.
Praised by colleagues for his man-management skills and professional and flexible manner, he describes his role as “very hands-on”.
He says: “It’s very challenging — one moment you have a patient who wants to eat Michelin quality food and the next moment you have a patient who wants to eat a bowl of porridge at 8pm, not to mention health and safety, HACCP, the EHO and, most importantly, staff morale.
“Allergens play a big part in our industry now and we have adjusted our recipes and procedures to accommodate the majority of our clients, still using the best ingredients. We will always have someone who can’t eat a dish as it has an ingredient in it that they are allergic to, so we bespoke it for them.”
Covid has had a massive effect on the operation this year, says Heard. “Blue patient area, green patient area, staff furlough, working from home, self-isolate, face masks! We were quiet initially but the business soon picked up when we started taking a lot of NHS patients and we had to adjust our menus to accommodate them. We received great feedback from them, so that was very rewarding.”
His ethos is to ensure that all patients, staff, consultants and visitors are treated like they are friends.
“They are paying for a service and I expect the brigade to do it to the best of their ability. I have a fantastic, dedicated brigade that I couldn’t do my job without. Each one of them plays their part in a successfully-run kitchen that is full on, and I have loyal chefs and kitchen porters that have been with me for over 10 years.”
Menu innovation comes from “eating the seasons” and, as a keen gardener, it is not unknown for Heard to bring in his own vegetables or herbs if a supplier isn’t able to get hold of particular items.
“We always discuss the menus as a brigade, formally and informally, and in ways of what we can do to improve our offering to our clients. I want the first person and last person to be served in the day to get the same quality and service.”
He also reserves praise for suppliers that have provided assistance over the years. “It’s really important to forge good working relationships with suppliers — without them we’re stuck.”
What piece of kitchen equipment could you not do without?
Our 10-grid Rational ovens. Although they are 12-years-old, they are still functioning as good as new. We have two on site and their versatility is fantastic. The fact we can stream, roast, grill, braise, griddle and bake is real true evidence of innovation. Once upon a time you were very careful about putting water in an oven!
What would you love to add to your kitchen set-up in 2021?
We are always looking for innovative equipment to help our processes, but what is also important is how to use them, so training plays a big part in the way we work at King Edward VII Hospital. We have many pieces of equipment that help our daily schedules including thermomixers, vacuum packing machines, Robot Coupes and blenders. We also have a modern cutlery polisher that kills bacteria through its processes.
I truly believe that a successfully-run kitchen needs up-to-date equipment to help maintain the interest of staff so that the client gets the best eating experience possible.