If you’re reading this article, in a catering title, then I’m going to presume that you don’t need me to spell out to you the main pressures that the catering industry face today. But, for those of you who do require an explanation, let me tell you that safely pushing creative boundaries whilst keeping up with high street brands at the pace required is undoubtedly one of the greatest stresses. In my previous columns, I’ve discussed in detail just how fierce the competition is for contract caterers, and what can be done to stay ahead of the game. One stone I’ve left previously unturned, however, is how we do that safely – and by not only abiding by safety rules and regulations, but making them part of your daily practice, without limiting your staff’s creativity and free-reign over their own kitchens.
At Vacherin, we love being tasked with reinventing, recreating and changing the food we are producing to attract and retain the attention of our customers, and prospects. As an industry, we are always looking for the next big trend, or to be the ones to come up with the idea in the first place. We need to push the boundaries in terms of style, flavour and creativity – and one of the greatest restraints in doing so, is executing it safely and within health and safety regulations.
We’re exceptionally lucky that our business is full of passionate, creative and competitive people. From head office through to the kitchen staff just starting out on their careers, everyone has an input on devising and delivering new ideas so we ensure that every person at Vacherin is well aware of the importance of abiding by health and safety standards.
However, things can go wrong if certain fundamental points are not followed to the line, as several articles in the press have proven in recent months… but health and safety regulations are not in place to cause a headache or to make our work more difficult and certainly aren’t around to stifle creativity – we have them so they can safely guide our work and our practice, and provide the best quality service for our clients whilst up-keeping the highest possible level of hygiene and cleanliness.
Our staff are expected to follow some basic rules whenever they are in our kitchens, to enable them to work creatively and safely, and still have fun with what they’re creating. Whether it be just practising new dishes, or in mid-service on a client site. These include:
- Never cook too far outside of your comfort zone, especially when it’s for customers. We always provide support and knowledge for anything that is out of the ordinary from a chef’s usual day-to-day remit. We also ask that recipes and ideas are practised and checked for safety before serving to ensure as smooth a delivery as possible when in service.
- Check with specialists. Vacherin always liaises with industry specialists in the world of health and safety and food hygiene if chefs are trying a new or particularly different dish, to ensure that it conforms with regulations, and ultimately, we’re keeping our customers safe.
- Follow procedures – we create, train, and ensure staff follow specific procedures as set from the governing bodies in H&S, and from speaking with specialists. Hygiene and safety always come first on Vacherin sites – if it can’t be done safely, it won’t be done.
- And finally, we aim to never tell our people ‘no’. Even if a particular task or dish seems to challenge the boundaries more than usual, don’t steer the team behind it away from the idea with rules, and attempt to scare them off it. Instead, think of the ways of making it safe and work with the team to try find the best possible solution to do so. You want your staff to come to you with new and exciting ideas, so ensure that you welcome them with open arms.
To succeed in safely pushing the boundaries in catering, you need to have ambitious, innovative daring chefs in your kitchens. Employ specialists in every area who have the knowledge and experience to deliver their ideas, and always remember allergens. I am hearing of an increasing number of cases of late, of people getting this really wrong. So, be bold, take inspiration from competition (but always remember to put your own unique, creative twist on it) and make sure that everything you and your company do is safe, follows regulations and ultimately – is fun to do! It’s equally as easy to get caught up in rules and forget the fun behind catering, as it is to only focus on the fun and forget the rules. Try to find an equal balance, and you’ll be set for some time to come.
Dan Kelly, Director | Food, Vacherin