GNAAS fundraiser helps pupils serve up a special fine dining experience

One of our fundraisers has helped pupils at a Middlesbrough school serve a three-course meal to their families and head teachers after completing a special six-week training programme.

Ben Sisson is a former restaurant manager who worked in hospitality for more than 30 years before moving to the charity sector and joining GNAAS at the end of 2022.

His current role as a fundraiser includes representing GNAAS at external public events, engaging with existing and potential supporters, and delivering talks and presentations to promote our charity.

Paul O’Hara, who is the executive chef for Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust (NPCAT), previously worked alongside Ben at Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, and earlier this year they reunited to organise a six-week hospitality and catering course for a small group of year ten pupils at Trinity Catholic College.

The course was broken down into an hour session a week for six weeks, culminating in a three-course meal, made and served by the pupils to their parents, members of NPCAT’s senior leadership team and representatives from secondary schools within the trust.

Ben said: “My role was to take the lead on all things service led with three front-of-house pupils, while four went with Paul in the kitchen. I focused on service etiquette, setting the tables, service delivery, menu knowledge, banqueting-style serving and clearing and general hospitality service and knowledge.

“It was a challenge, as you can imagine, from a starting point of not knowing any of the pupils, but they were all really good and showed a real keen interest and picked it up well.”

Paul’s group of pupils focused on putting together a delicious three-course meal in the kitchen and created a choice menu for 60 guests.

Guests could choose from a starter of mac ‘n’ cheese fritters or a ham hock terrine with piccalilli and toasted sourdough, a main course of herb-fed chicken breast with bacon, peas and potato gratin or North Sea fishcake, soft poached hen’s egg and warm tartare sauce.

For dessert, there was a choice of sticky toffee pudding, butterscotch sauce with vanilla ice cream or Eton mess.

On the day of the meal, Ben was involved with all the planning, cleaning the dining area, preparing the cutlery and glassware, helping the pupils set the tables and deliver the food and clearing up afterwards.

He said: “The atmosphere was very busy, and there was a lot of preparation to do behind the scenes to get everything ready for guest arrivals.

“We all worked very well together, and the guests loved it.

“I think on the whole the pupils really enjoyed it. It was probably more challenging for the front-of-house team, who may have found it a little daunting to serve all the teachers and their own families, but I made sure they felt supported, guided and reassured them at all times.

“It was so nice to see Hugh Hegarty, the CEO of NPCAT, who also attended, give his thanks speech and give all the pupils their certificate of achievement and gifts for completing the course. It gave me the most joy to see how far they all came in under six weeks, doing something I have done for 30-plus years. It’s not easy, and I was a mix of nerves and proud excitement on the day.

“I also had the opportunity to deliver a short speech to all the guests on what we do at GNAAS, which everyone seemed to enjoy, but they were surprised by some of the facts and figures.

“We received lots of donations on the day and even £100 personally off Hugh, and I strongly believe we have now cemented and created a very special relationship with NPACT and will do many more things together in the future.”

It is hoped in the future, the hospitality and catering course piloted at Trinity Catholic College will be rolled out to the other five secondaries in NPCAT, which runs 38 schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire, including the city of York.

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