Pulled pork tacos, buttermilk chicken, curries and sticky Korean chicken are just some of the dishes served at Giddy Kippers Party and Play Centre in Nelson, Lancashire, where head chef Sam Taylor- Bolshaw is dramatically changing the perception of food served at children’s indoor play centres.

Sam knows the centre well as he started out here as a pot-wash at 15, progressing to sandwich-making and helping in the kitchen. After university, he worked for various pubs and restaurants before returning to the centre as head chef. He now looks after a team of six, including a full-time chef and several part-time college students. In the two years he’s been in the job, the biggest change he’s seen is what customers want. He says, “They expect more options to meet dietary requirements so there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan dishes. A few dishes from the kids’ menu can be made 100% allergen free such as chicken goujons, veggie nuggets and a kids’ pizza. For other dishes, specific ingredients can be substituted, where possible.”

The play centre is open from 10am to 7pm so the menu at Kipper’s Café is varied enough to incorporate breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the busy season in Autumn and Winter, the centre can attract over 400 to 500 customers a day. Sam says, “Autumn half term and Christmas are very busy, but provided we have the correct staffing levels, the menu works well, and we can keep the food rolling out. There’s always a big Halloween party every year with 150 to 200 people in the space of two hours. We create a special set menu – this way we can control the orders.”
In addition to the café menu, Giddy Kippers has a specials board which is constantly updated. “We have regular customers coming in every week, who always order from the specials boards, so this means they have something different each time.”

As a result of rising costs, Sam started shopping around for the best price which has led him to support local businesses. A local butcher supplies all the meat “which means we can buy in the meat as and when we need it so it’s more cost-effective and the meat is always fresh,” Sam says. Free range eggs are from a local farmer, which is working out cheaper for the business and Sam is currently in the process of setting up a local supplier for fruit and veg.

The centre is busy year-round for parties. There can be up to nine on a Saturday or Sunday and up to three on a weekday, each attracting, on average, ten to twenty five children, although Sam has catered for over 100 on occasions. He says, “I try to do things differently – about 80% of our menu is made fresh in house and cooked according to my own recipes. I’m constantly trying to increase the quality of the food, whether that’s from changing suppliers or how we prepare it.”