Meet our Catering Manager, Jacqueline Williamson!
Every Friday marks the end of a busy week for our Catering team. As our Kitchen Porters Richard and Michel safely wheel away the emptied bowls and plates from our cafeteria, our Chef Manager, Jackie, leads us into the Catering office to share an exclusive insight into the research, planning and preparation that resulted in today’s warmly welcomed mushroom risotto, stuffed aubergines, colourful salad bar and lemon drizzle cake.
As we ask Jackie about her goals, it’s clear that her priority is our students’ health and happiness: at Halcyon, at home and beyond. “I want them to come away with a blueprint for healthy eating,” she explains, “because the school canteen is where some of our strongest memories of school are made.” To ensure that our students finish their time at Halcyon with fond recollections of a healthy lunchtime, our catering team strives to provide meal options that are both balanced and enjoyable.
Sustainable, varied menus
When we ask Jackie about her approach to our exclusively vegetarian menu, she responds with enthusiasm. “I actually really enjoy working with vegetarian ingredients. We have so many options - we don’t have to ‘bulk up’ on beans or cheese to replace meat. We can ensure that students get their carbohydrates and protein in a range of ways!”
Jackie pauses to extend this point, establishing the importance of Halcyon’s sustainable approach to forming healthy dietary habits. “As a vegetarian school, we find that meat alternatives can be made from many nutritious, high-quality ingredients - and we create 90% of the dishes from scratch. We make our own vegetarian burgers!” she emphasises. “Students might be surprised that we can produce such variety, but this is all part of helping them understand that there’s always plenty of ways to eat healthily.”
Incorporating student preferences
Jackie is keen to express that another crucial aspect of her role is actively seeking out student opinion. “You have to respect the tastes of the people you cater for,; and I value dislikes as much as compliments. Constructive criticism is the only way to change!”
When we tentatively ask about the question of ‘picky eaters’, she laughs, clearly at ease with dealing with particular tastes. “There’s always going to be people who are more picky with their food, and I’d love to have a chat with those students just as much as everyone else. I let them know that I understand, and that there’s always something else they can have. We can always try new changes in the menus that are responsive to students’ ideas.”
Prompted by the discussion of student inclusivity, we ask Jackie about the importance of including catering in our school fees. She nods in understanding, and explains her view. “If students had to pay, they wouldn’t feel that they’re the priority,” she begins, “and they wouldn’t want to communicate with us to find a healthy way of eating that suits them.” As well as lunch, Halcyon provides snack breaks included in the school fees - we want our students to know that their health and energy is our absolute priority.
Why is it so important to have a tasty, healthy lunch?
At this question, Jackie smiles and sits back as she warmly welcomes us into some of her treasured memories. “I remember that my mother used to tell me this: ‘if you only have £10 in your pocket, make sure you spend it on an enjoyable, healthy meal!’. If you prioritise eating well above all else, you become more conscious of what you put into your body.”
Through this approach, our students are gaining an intuitive awareness of the importance of their health to learning - leading them to make active, healthy choices that boost their engagement in lessons, such as participating in sport at lunchtimes… and even requesting that their parents recreate Jackie’s nutritious menus at home. Laughing lightly at the memory, she explains the level of demand at one of her previous workplaces. “The parents asked me to write a cookbook. And I was more than happy to - I want to make sure that students are healthy in every part of their life!”
A dedicated team
Like our teaching and administrative teams, our catering team is guided by a collaborative spirit that enables a shared positivity and determination. “The most important thing I’ve learned as a Chef Manager is to value my team.” Jackie states. “The canteen wouldn’t be able to function without people like Richard and Michel, our Kitchen Porters, and respecting the structures and routines of every member of the team is crucial to our constant motivation to improve our work. We’re a very happy kitchen!” she laughs.
Jackie speaks fondly of her past role at Fulham Football Club - working with a nutritionist allowed her to expand her knowledge on the links between the diet, the body and energy levels that informs her practice at Halcyon. In the past, Jackie also worked as a musician and as a stand-up comedian; she explained that she “works for love” more than anything else. Loving what she does brings Jackie and her team to go above and beyond in providing meals for our community - and we look forward to more students experiencing a tasty lunch at Halcyon!