Introduction to Running a Kitchen

NO VISITOR to France could fail to appreciate the significance of the proverb ” Communautés commencent par bâtir leur cuisine.” For in that country it is clear that communities do begin by establishing their kitchen and it is also very obvious that a good kitchen is one of the main foundations of a happy and contented life. As we all know, two of the most important factors contributing to a successful vacation are a sunny day and a good table, but a holiday can be tolerable even without sun if the food is good. What is rue of good feeding when at play is surely even more true when at work. I well remember spending a happy holiday abroad with a friend of very equable temperament who shared my enjoyment of the bonne cuisine of the country and whose equanimity could be disturbed by only one thing–the thought that on her return, owing to financial considerations not unconnected with the cost of the holiday, she would be compelled to take her meal in the office canteen rather than in a nearby restaurant. This series is written in the hope that it may contribute something to the improvement of such canteens and so eventually remove the tiny black cloud from the otherwise bright blue sky of a good holiday abroad.

There are naturally other very important reasons for writing this series. It is intended primarily for students following a course which will fit them eventually for positions of responsibility in institutional catering. The organisation and running of kitchens of this type demands a wide range of knowledge, ability and experience. A fund of useful knowledge has been and is being built up by many of those engaged in this work, and in the following chapters an attempt is made to bring together this information and to hand on something of the accumulated experience and wisdom to new entrants to the profession. It is hoped also that this series will prove valuable for reference by practicing caterers. It must be remembered, however, that since this series is intended in the first place for student use all subjects have been dealt with de novo and some parts will therefore be too simple and elementary for use by experienced caterers.

The scope of the subject matter which could be included under the title The Kitchen in Catering is very wide. It covers all aspects of catering in this country from the high class restaurant with its elaborate à la carte and table d’hôte menus to the simplest type of snack bar. For our present purpose, however, the scope has been restricted to kitchens generally covered by the description nonprofit making. The catering establishments with which this series is mainly concerned are residential institutions such as university halls of residence and college hostels and canteens for non-residential establishments such as day schools and factories. Hospitals are also included because the work in them is in many ways similar, despite the fact that it is to a great extent concerned with providing food for sick persons who will be eating in wards and not in dining rooms. It will be found that certain portions of this series are generally applicable to catering establishments of all types but in the main we shall not deal with hotel and restaurant catering where the problems are concerned with the service throughout a considerable part of the day of a variety of dishes, often of a continental type, and not with the production at set times of a limited number of dishes of traditional English type. Such differences are fundamental in the effect they have on most aspects of the work, including kitchen planning, choice of equipment, kitchen organisation and service.

The work of the caterer in the establishments with which this series is concerned has always been of great importance but has become of even greater significance during recent years owing to the tremendous increase in the number of meals provided both for industrial workers and school children, and the demand for trained and experienced staff has grown accordingly. It was of course wartime conditions which led to the increase in the numbers of these canteens and it is interesting to trace briefly the way in which this development took place. In the years before 1939 canteens were provided in a certain number of factories, and in others rooms were available where workers could eat a packed meal brought from home, but this practice was not general throughout the country. Since 1943, however, the provision of canteen facilities for a very great number of factory workers has been made compulsory. Under Factories (Canteens) Order 1943 any factory employing more than 250 persons may be required by H.M. Inspector of Factories to set up a canteen. The result of this Order is that today there are about 42,500 industrial and staff dining rooms providing some 24 million substantial meals each day.

In the School Meals Service the development has followed a similar pattern. Before 1939 meals were supplied in many secondary schools, i.e. the schools now called Secondary Grammar Schools under the Education Act of 1944, and in some of the elementary schools, namely, the new Senior Schools which are now in the main Secondary Modern Schools. These meals were provided principally for pupils who lived at considerable distances from the school and who were therefore unable to return home at mid-day. In addition free meals were provided for necessitous children, i.e. children whose parents’ income fell below a level fixed by the Local Education Authority, and also for children who were considered by the School Medical Officer to be suffering from malnutrition. Such meals were usually cooked and served not in the schools but at centers easily accessible from them and found mainly in the large industrial cities where the incidence of malnutrition is more common. The total number of meals served daily to all school children in the above schools and dining centers did not amount to more than 170,000. The tremendous expansion to the daily figure today of 2 millions is the direct result of two influences. The first, war evacuation and the second, the rationing of food. When at the beginning of the war the schools left the cities and went to the country it was clearly necessary to provide pupils with meals at school and thus relieve the burden of those responsible for feeding the children in their billets. At the same time food supplies were restricted by rationing and in order to ensure that the health of the children should not unduly suffer nor their growth be restricted extra rations were made available for the mid-day meal in school. The Government encouraged Local Education Authorities to extend their facilities by increasing the grant paid on expenditure on meals and later by supplying them with equipment and kitchen premises both of which were free. Finally under Section 49 of the Education Act of 1944 it became a duty of the Local Education Authorities to provide meals for pupils in attendance at schools maintained by them and in 1945 Ministry of Education Circular 21 was issued recommending that provision should be made for 75 per cent of the number in daily attendance.

The contribution which these services have made to the general health of both children and adults is considerable. Not only have the young persons who were children during the war years not suffered physically from food shortages but it is generally agreed that they are better nourished than children before the war and there can be no doubt that one of the factors contributing to this improvement is the provision of meals and milk in schools. Comparisons are less easy where adults are concerned and it is therefore not possible to assess as accurately the effects of the provision of meals for industrial workers but there can be no doubt of the beneficial effects of these meals. In the words of the Catering Wages Commission: (Report of Catering Wages Commission on the recommendation for the establishment of a Wages Board for Industrial Catering, March, 1944. (nad. 6309.))

“Although it has taken the stress of war conditions to demonstrate its value to the industrial life of the nation, we are satisfied that its benefits are now widely appreciated and we hope that employer, employee and housewife will be disinclined to see a return to the days of the mid-day sandwich, or the midday meal taken hurriedly at home.”

One other point must be referred to in the introduction of a series of this type, namely the relationship between theory and practice. There is no doubt that practical experience is of the highest importance in kitchen work in all its aspects whether it is in the routine jobs of the day-to-day preparation of food or in the more exacting work of organisation and management. Theory can never take the place of practice and the reading of a text series will not by itself qualify a person to become an efficient caterer. The two must go hand in hand, each assisting the other and both together leading to improved efficiency. Sometimes it will be found that theory assists practice while in other circumstances what is obviously sound in theory, owing to a misunderstanding of some of the factors, just will not work out in practice. In such cases the problem must be carefully examined, the pros and cons reviewed and a final decision reached in the light of the evidence available. The information in this series should help the caterer to take a decision in these and in all the multitude of other problems which arise from time to time.