Catering for boarding school children from all over the world presents a huge challenge – but Fran Graves and Simon Briggs are a class act.

The hardworking duo head up the 62-strong catering team at Queen Ethelburga’s College in York, who feed 1,600 children and 200 staff on a daily basis.

Catering general manager Fran explains: “We are catering for all ages from babies up to 18-year-olds and 56 different nationalities, many with very different dietary preferences. “We have a lot of Chinese and Russian students – 300 of each nationality – and a lot of children come through from age five so we have to be mindful of the different needs of the various age groups. For example, the older children often ask for more spices and flavours whilst the younger ones want less so we have to try and strike a balance.”

Regular ‘Food Committee’ meetings with the students help keep the catering team on track with what their diners want, and the traditional favourites generally come out on top. “Roast dinners and fish and chips are always a big hit, even with the foreign students.” says head chef Simon. “We also encourage the children to bring in recipes from home. We take what their mothers cook and adapt it for 1,600 children, then print the child’s name on the menu so it gives them ownership of it.”

As a private school they are not legally required to follow the recommendations of the School Food Plan – but they choose to follow them at lunchtime. Continues Fran: “We do spoil them a bit more in the evening and weekends, and the menus tend to be a bit more relaxed. “Ofsted referred to the catering here as ‘the engine room of the school’. If the children weren’t happy with the food, their parents would take them out.

“We get through 80 tins of Country Range Baked Beans per service and, in a blind taste test, the children would always choose Country Range. The Country Range branded products are often just as good if not better than the branded versions.”

Queen Ethelburga’s runs an Elite Sports Programme and has county level pitches and professional coaches. Fran says: “The school has invested a lot of money in sports facilities and they are truly amazing. To complement that, the students on our Elite Sports programme need the right nutrition and fuel, and receive a Nutrition Pass so that they can get extra protein and carbs. We also make packed meals specially tailored to give them extra energy before matches.”

Event catering is another huge area for the team with six satellite kitchens available for gala dinners, Speech Day barbecues and so on. Former hotel head chef Simon says: “It’s a very challenging job particularly when we are cooking remotely in marquees. Last year the students chose a Moroccan theme for their dinner so we brought in camels and belly dancers. The logistics of it is what I find most interesting.

“We have a good core team who have been here for over five years. We tend to bring people in from different specialist areas, for example, we have people who have worked on cruise ships and therefore have experience of cooking remotely. “It’s an attractive job for restaurant chefs because the hours are more sociable but they still have the chance to be creative. However, it is a good one-year training process.”

Pupils at Queen Ethelburga’s munch their way through:

  • 800 loaves of bread in 10 days – the height of the Eiffel Tower
  • 7,000 pints of milk a week – enough to fill 50 bathtubs
  • 1,200kg potatoes each week – the weight of two racing cars