Steve Hodge has been chef at BCPS since the new hall and catering kitchen opened in May 2015.
His parents ran a bakery in Lympstone, but Steve didn’t like the idea of 3am starts and chose not to follow his family into baking. Instead he went to Exeter College, where he studied catering in the same class as Michael Caines. Having done work experience at the Royal Marines Commando Training Camp (CTC) at Lympstone, he got a job there, in the Officers’ Mess, where he stayed for nearly five years before going travelling. As he went around the world, his many jobs included cooking in Australia, New Zealand and the US. On his return, he worked for over 24 years at Exeter University, in a variety of roles including head chef for the halls of residence, where, with a team of 12 chefs, he produced three meals a day for around 700 students - 2000 meals a day! His last role before joining BCPS was running the hospitality from Cornwall House providing event catering across Exeter University.
Did you know?
Steve’s job is to design and prepare a full balanced menu of tasty 'home-cooked food'. The concept is one of 'family dining' where older children will sit with younger children and help serve the food that has been brought to the table in a family-style dining experience.
But Steve’s responsibility isn’t just preparing school dinners for 450 children. He and the team also feed up to 40 members of staff every day and run the Academy Café, where parents meet every afternoon for a range of great foods and drinks such as paninis, lattes and freshly-baked cakes. On top of that, Cornerstone Academy Trust also runs a Teaching School at BCPS, offering courses and conferences that have to be catered. These are often three or four times a week and can range from tea, coffee and a selection of homemade cakes, to buffet lunches or a three-course table-served lunch.
Steve tells us about a typical day
I start here in the kitchen at 6.30am to receive delivery of all our supplies of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables as well as our dry store ingredients. I see everything in, check it all, sign it off and deal with storing it. Then I go through the fridges and decide what ingredients I need for the day’s café menu as well as the school dinners and any buffet or hospitality menus I have booked in.
Then it’s time for preparation – marinating, roasting meats, bread-crumbing fish, making fresh Bolognese sauces, getting the jacket potatoes, with a selection of fillings and fresh salads, ready.
Jamie, the sous chef, arrives at 8.00am, by which time I’ve got most things underway. We look at the menus for the day together, and Jamie looks after the vegetarian meals while I get the main course, potatoes, breads and vegetables prepared and ready for cooking. That takes a good couple of hours, from around 8.30am to 10.30am. Every day is different, but if there’s a school trip for any classes, this is when we’re making packed lunches. This is also the time when any hospitality items, like cakes, sandwiches and paninis are prepared. I also receive my confirmed staff lunch numbers at this time and prepare the hot meal choice for our staff who dine from midday daily in the Academy Café.
Between 10.30am and midday we start the final steaming and cooking of all our vegetables, potatoes, rice and breads and then serve all the food into service containers. By about 11.30am we’ve potted up all the vegetable and potatoes into 31 separate containers – 15 for each sitting, and one for the nursery children. The containers are put onto a hotplate to keep warm.
We have numbered sheets that show where every child sits in mixed age groups for lunch, and between 11.00am and midday the appropriate meal for each child is portioned and served then labelled in the right container, and put into the hotplate ready for service. There are several children in school with special dietary requirements, so we check carefully to make sure we have the right meals prepared for them and label these dishes so they are easily recognised by the mealtime assistant appointed to that child.
At midday, with everything laid up in front of the climbing wall, and all the salads, fruits, yoghurts, fresh fruit salad, and jacket potato fillings in the chiller, Jamie passes the food from the hot cupboards to the mealtime assistants, who serve everything to the correct children seated at their tables.
At the same time, I set up all the hot food for the staff in the café and support Angela, who’s been making all the café menu cakes, paninis etc., with serving the staff till 1pm.
Afternoons from 1pm are varied, On Mondays and Tuesdays, I go back into the kitchen to start the next day’s preparation. I do the food safety paperwork, sanitise the kitchen, clean the fridges and ovens and do the daily orders. We also bring all the food containers and dishes back to the kitchen after service and begin the process of washing-up and storing items that can be reused. I also support the team with making cakes. Wednesday is the main day for ordering for the coming week; I do a visual stocktake and complete the coming week’s food orders ready to input into the digital master sheet which generates exact numbers of all food items required.
On Thursdays I teach cooking to eight children at a time – this term it’s lasagne with year 6. We prepare everything fresh, including homemade Bolognese using the best ingredients and fresh herbs, and béchamel sauces. Each child makes their own single-portion lasagne, and then the best two dishes, judged on appearance, chopping skills and taste, are selected to go through to the grand final of The Great Broadclyst bake-off!
And on Friday, I do the weekly stocktake and process the week’s invoices.
We don’t stop all day, especially on the days we have hospitality; there’s always something to do in a very busy kitchen, but that’s all part of the challenge! I usually finish at about 3.30pm.
Favourite part of the job?
Cooking with the children on Thursdays is absolutely the best part of my job! I find the children’s enthusiasm for cooking is hugely rewarding, and reflected in the amazing skills they show and quality of the food they produce.