Every day, I encounter exceptional examples of culinary excellence and service from chefs and caterers in the care sector. It therefore frustrates and saddens me that care catering remains the ‘poor relation’ within the industry, often undervalued in its contribution and overlooked when promoting the many fantastic and rewarding career opportunities that catering and hospitality has to offer.
Catering for the vulnerable and elderly is challenging and demands specialist skills, knowledge and responsibility. As people age their dietary needs change and a wide variety of special diets must be recognised and catered for safely. From food intolerances to dysphasia and dementia, it is vital that care caterers can confidently deliver the right nutrition and hydration to ensure quality of life and prevent unnecessary malnutrition-related illnesses.
As well as the fundamental technical skills, chefs in the care sector also need the creativity and flair usually associated with top restaurants. Older people often experience a reduced appetite or decreased sense of taste so it’s imperative that the food presented to them is attractive to the eye and full of flavour. You only need look at the incredible food produced by competitors in the annual NACC Care Chef of the Year competition to see the fantastic talent within the care sector. The presentation and clever flavour combinations would not be out of place in a fine-dining restaurant.
So why the disparity? It’s my experience, and that of many of my colleagues, that the care sector is not championed in colleges. At the primary point of influence for many youngsters entering the industry, it’s in the main the hotel and restaurant sectors that are targeted and promoted. This may be down to a range of reasons, such as the rise of television programmes glamorising the hotel and restaurant industry; the celebrity chef culture; the fact that many lecturers come from these sectors so it’s their natural sway and passion; the care sector itself not shouting loud enough; and importantly, the lack of a formal qualification focusing on care catering.
It really is time that all sectors are championed through education so that young people, new entrants to the industry and those already working as chefs, are given an equal opportunity to consider all the options available and chose the career path that is right for them.
We have been working tirelessly with the Hospital Caterers Association and Barnet and Southgate College to redress the balance and develop the very first professional qualification for the health and social care sector. It was with great pride that we saw the NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery in Health and Social Care Catering, successfully pilot last year and produce our first batch of graduates. A giant leap forward for our sector. The qualification includes the specialised topics of nutrition and hydration, fortification, texture-modified foods, allergies and diets
The Institute of Hospitality has recognised the the value of this qualification, and has joined the partnership working to roll the NVQ out to colleges across the UK. This influential body is helping to lead the way in changing opinion and championing our sector, and we are most grateful for this.
I urge other industry associations and colleges to follow suit and open their eyes to the many exciting and rewarding career paths our vibrant industry has to offer. And, to those who are not convinced, I would be more than happy to talk to you further about the virtues of care catering.
Neel Radia FIH is national chair of the National Association of Care Catering
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