From education to employment

College serves up food and drink hat trick

Guest chef Jacqueline O'Donnell is pictured with Borders College Catering and Hospitality students, and lecturing staff Gillian Petty, Robbie Bunton and Fiona Nichol

Visitors to Borders College’s recent food and drink focused events enjoyed the very best of what the Scottish Borders has to offer in the industry. Between a food fayre, chef demonstrations and charity dinner, there was something for everyone to appreciate across the ‘Local Food on Local Plates’ theme.

Kicking off the series of events, which took place during Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight and in support of the Year of Young People 2018, was the food fayre held at the Scottish Borders Campus. Supported by attendees from within and outwith the College, 16 local producers and suppliers exhibited their products ranging from fresh fruit and baked goods, to homemade liqueurs and locally distilled Gin for visitors to sample as well as purchase to take home. All exhibitors were keen to not only raise the profile of their business in the local area, but also to support this inaugural event and provide inspiration to the College students.

Tegan Thomas (from Galashiels) of exhibiting business Thomas and Ethel Bakery is herself a former catering and hospitality student of Borders College. Completing her course in 2015 with the intention of going on to train as a teacher, Tegan instead decided to use her newly gained knowledge and skills to set up a bakery specialising in allergy aware products, having experienced first-hand how difficult it was to find appealing gluten and dairy free products. Thomas and Ethel now operates on a wholesale basis from a unit at Tweedbank, priding itself on the bakery’s gluten free guarantee with items prepared in a completely safe environment. The company is now aiming to supply to Morrison’s (and have already met with the supermarket chain), as well as having been named runner-up wholesale bakery in The Scottish Food Awards 2018.

Business students got involved in helping the stallholders to promote their goods, with one explaining on behalf of Caverton Mill Farm that the blueberries available for purchase had been picked only two days prior, making them a fresher option than buying from supermarkets.
Tilly Fuller, General Manager at Borderfields Oils, spoke of her desire to maintain a local connection for the 11 year old company, which was founded in Coldstream and now has its head office in Nottingham: “People like the fact that our product is local, but it’s also available to buy from the supermarket as well.”

Richard White of Freewheelin’ Brewery, makes the most of collaborating with local business. The community owned brewery is hosted by the Peebles Hydro Hotel & Spa, where the beer is stocked in the bar as well as being available for hotel guests to purchase to take home, making the brewery a unique visitor attraction. Richard was pleased to support the College food fayre, commenting that it was a great business networking opportunity as well as helping to raise the profile of the 4 year old business.

Ooft! Hot Sauce, produced in Nether Huntlywood near Earlston, is sold in delicatessens across the Borders, but the company is also reaping the rewards of e-commerce – not only are online customers their third largest customer base, they have shipped orders as far as Australia and New Zealand, opening up their product to a worldwide audience.
And, Charlie Beaumont, Tourism Manager at The Borders Distillery in Hawick, quipped that they had brought ‘local gin in local glasses’ to the Local Food on Local Plates event, adding: “We are really proud that our gin is made from scratch in Hawick, using malted barley grown in the Borders.”
Four professional chef demonstrations – from Jacqueline O’Donnell (The Sisters Restaurants, Glasgow), Amanda Jordan (Firebrick Brasserie, Lauder), Iain Gourlay (Cringletie House Hotel, Peebles), and a joint demonstration by Jonny Millar (The Townhouse Hotel, Melrose) and Craig Gibb (Burts Hotel, Melrose) – also took place on the day, all attracting a full house.

Participants deemed the demonstrations “excellent”, adding that it was great encouragement for the students and they would love to attend more in the future. The catering and hospitality students themselves benefitted hugely from the demonstrations, where Jacqueline taught one group how to make puff candy and butterscotch sauce, and the students learned some new cookery techniques shown by the chefs.

The students also took the chance to showcase their own developing skills by serving light lunches and refreshments to customers from their barista bar throughout the day.

Jacqueline O’Donnell returned the following day to host a very special charity dinner in the College Restaurant. Ticketholders included members of local industry and College staff, amongst other food enthusiasts keen to experience a meal cooked by the reputable chef.  Jacqueline herself was supported by willing and able students from all three levels of Catering and Hospitality programmes, keen to add to their skillsets and experience.The students who spent the day in the kitchen preparing the evening meal with Jacqueline gained a real buzz from their experience, with level 2 student Rebecca Sharpe saying: “It has given us a bit more experience and tips on how to prepare different ingredients, such as peeling hazelnuts.”

Front of house team member and level 3 student Erin McAleer commented: “I feel like the dinner went really well, and it helped to enhance the skills I’m currently learning at College.” Fellow level 3 student Selina Scott felt it was good to have the support of the local producers, some of whom may be able to offer work experience for students.

Monies raised went to the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland (HIT Scotland).  HIT Scotland has provided significant support to a number of Borders College staff and students through craft scholarships, enabling them to enhance specific areas within their unique skillsets and to further develop their careers. It seems fitting that an event held in celebration of Scottish food and drink should support such a relevant cause, and College Principal Angela Cox highlighted that HIT Scotland’s mission chimes with that of Borders College in helping people to achieve their potential.

Dinner guests were served a smorgasbord of starters followed by a delicious lamb main course and trio of desserts, all created using local produce, many of which were purchased from food fayre exhibitors.  Speaking of the menu, Jacqueline said:
“Tonight’s menu came together under the ‘Local Food on Local Plates’ brief, in collaboration with Borders College staff and students. It made sense to use as much local produce as we could.
“It’s a natural menu that reflects this part of the countryside, and my style of cooking.”
Fiona Richmond of Scotland Food and Drink praised the evening’s menu, describing it as “absolute perfection.”
David Cochrane, Chief Executive of HIT Scotland, who attended the dinner on behalf of the receiving charity enthused: “The quality and passion behind the food tonight really put Scotland on the map and of that we’re really proud.” He also talked of the challenges of recruiting, and the essential practice of attracting people to the industry by showcasing the opportunities that are available and how up to date skills need to be developed, which is where scholarships really come to the fore.

Will Haegeland, Deputy General Manager of Cringletie House Hotel and guest at the dinner, is actively working to encourage increased tourism to the Scottish Borders as part of his role as Chair of the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership:
“Food and tourism are key growth sectors in the Scottish Borders, and there aren’t many others. We have a chance to increase visitor numbers and bring new resources – we need to see more young people choosing hospitality as an industry of choice.
“It is an exciting industry to be a part of and this is a great type of event to showcase that. We need young people to be showcased more and to demonstrate their pride in their work.”

Jacqueline herself hopes that the menu demonstrates they are carrying the torch for local producers, and that this experience has inspired the next generation of chefs to create dishes using quality local ingredients.  She also praised the College’s catering and hospitality lecturing staff for bringing energy and passion for their subject to the students, who are the future talent of the industry.

It is hoped that this will become an annual event in the Borders College calendar, so watch this space!

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