Three trainee dinner ladies from schools in West Lothian recently experienced top-class culinary training in the famous kitchens of The Balmoral Hotel. Yvonne Clark, Debbie Van Hussen and Pamela Neill each spent the day with The Balmoral's Executive Chef, Jeff Bland, who gave them an insight into a different aspect of the catering industry and tips on preparing the hotel's five-star dishes.


Forming the catering partnership

Derek O'Neill, West Lothian's Catering Manager; Gary Quinn, the Restaurant Director at Number One (the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant); and The Balmoral's Executive Chef, Jeff Bland, formed a catering partnership.

Speaking about the opportunity, Mr O'Neill stated: "This was a fantastic opportunity for our catering staff who have never experienced an environment such as The Balmoral... there is an obvious difference between the school kitchens and those at The Balmoral, but we felt that our catering staff would learn a great deal from this experience".

Learning new catering techniques

Speaking about her experience, Yvonne, the Assistant Cook at Riverside Primary School in Livingston, said, "I really enjoyed my day of training. It was great to see how things were done in The Balmoral kitchens, and I learned new techniques and helped out with preparing some of the food... this is an experience I'll never forget".

Mr O'Neill added, "We think this is a first for both the council and The Balmoral, and our team were very excited to have this opportunity to learn from and experience working in one of the best hotels in the country. We are grateful to Chef Bland and his team for their support".

He continued, "Our school catering staff deliver over 13,500 school meals each day, and we are very proud of our work, but this opportunity was a unique learning experience for us... most chefs would love to have this opportunity, so to have our school catering staff join the chefs at The Balmoral for the day is an exciting partnership".

Chef Bland was very supportive of the idea and said: "At The Balmoral, we're passionate about championing Scottish food and drink and serving it in new and innovative ways, so we were delighted with the chance to open our kitchen and share our knowledge with Yvonne, Debbie and Pamela... we're also passionate about fostering local talent so our chefs were keen to spend time sharing best practice and techniques with them on a one-to-one basis in the hope that they can take some new ideas back to their own kitchens".

In a final comment, Mr O'Neill said, "we will be looking to build a partnership where all interested parties will have the chance to attend in future. We are also discussing with Chef Bland the possibility of his team travelling in the opposite direction to work in one of our school kitchens.

This would enable his staff to understand the parameters we are required to work within to provide a healthy and balanced diet to our school children".

Overall, the experience was enjoyable for everyone involved, and bosses at The Balmoral have extended an invitation to dinner ladies in Edinburgh schools.