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Transforming a large, centralized kitchen concept into an active learning ground.

Large centralized kitchens are a great place to learn about the importance of acquiring life skills such as the ability to make detailed plans individually as well as a team, attention to detail, effective communications skills (spoken and written) and ofcourse problem solving within short periods of time. The tweens and the teens at the Young Executives Club are developing in the course of a fictional activity that involves them creating a large centralized kitchen that will have the capacity to turn out 100 meals to feed children as a part of the midday meal scheme. They started by making observations of the various parts in their home kitchens such as the different kinds of vessels, the storage etc. They extended the concept to larger kitchens by using their active imagination. Having created a blueprint of a large kitchen combining viewpoints and inputs of different members in each team, it was time to get facts from an expert.

They had the opportunity to get a glimpse of how life skills such as planning, attention to detail, teamwork and effective communication skills are incredibly useful in the context of managing a large centralized kitchen, thanks to Ms. Asha Malini, Director of Corporate Catering Division, Nala Veg. Nala Veg, a food catering service in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, is well known for their delicious meals that are prepared with much care to ensure that the taste is exquisite. Established in the year 1990, they have been offering catering services for weddings as well as for corporates such as TCS, Chrysler, Vijay TV, Just Dial, to name a few.

Be it a centralized kitchen catering to corporates or to school going children, goals are common- provide nutritious, good quality and tasty food. To be able to deliver on that goal, the principles are the same - a properly developed system of operation, high standards of hygiene and meeting all the food safety standards set by the government.

Planning and attention to detail - Foundation of a centralized kitchen

The young executives compared their notes and blueprints with the information that Ms. Asha shared with them. The following aspects were discussed.

  • Layout- sufficient space for staff to move around and the importance of ventilation and exhaust was emphasized. Small details such as maintaining sufficient distance between the walls and the equipment were stressed upon. Space for gas banks as a fuel source was also talked about.

  • Choice of equipment to be determined by the menu- For instance if roti is a popular choice locally, roti making machines become a necessity. On the other hand if the local preference is rice, large rice cookers become essential.

  • Procurement procedures- handling and managing produce involves sorting and documenting any lapses in quality of raw produce procured.

  • Vegetable washing and cutting- partly manual, partly mechanized.

  • Standardized and tested recipes are a part of the menu with room for flexibility to handle vagaries in prices of raw produce.

  • Adherence to high standards of hygiene- "Clean as you go" and thorough cleaning after every round of cooking before the next meal preparation. Staff to wear appropriate uniforms. They are also to compulsorily wear accessories that prevent hair from falling into food.

Effective communication both in written as well as oral form helps in problem prevention

Standardized quality control procedures and rigorous documentation every step of the way was emphasized as a means of preventing problems later. "This adherence to documentation and several quality checks has also helped with problem resolution many times, " explained Ms. Asha. Posters providing directions and precautionary measures to be followed are pasted in easily visible places in the kitchen. In addition, supervisors keep providing verbal instructions and conduct regular checks to make sure the procedures are being complied with. If a problem arises, the teams meet to identify the cause of the problem and devise proper solutions and preventive measures to ensure that the problem does not occur again.

Situations that need presence of mind and quick decision making to solve problems - scenarios where even Google Search cannot help.

Tweens and teens are now well accustomed to this popular search option. Any question that is hard to answer or sometimes even fairly obvious is often looked up on Google. They got their first taste of a real life scenario where quick decision making and presence of mind becomes essential to solve a pressing problem. In a centralized kitchen when time is short and there is an accidental spill for instance, substitutes that could be made quickly need to be thought of and implemented. Ms. Asha narrated an interesting incident in which an ego clash between the staff in the kitchen resulted in a delay. There was little time to cook rice as they had to budget time for traffic on the way to the client's office. Ms. Asha quickly resolved the situation by arranging for rice to be cooked and delivered from another kitchen from their establishment that was in the vicinity of the office. The matter of course was not left unattended. The issue was broached, discussed and resolved. The staff were further sensitized about the impact of their actions on customer service.

Budgeting and managing funds

"How much money do we have to carry out this project?" was one of the first questions the young executives asked when we began this activity. Needless to say, they were eager to find out more about raising money and managing budgets. Ms. Asha spoke them extensively about managing budgets, making adjustment to menus to accommodate price vagaries of raw produce without compromising on quality. She briefly touching upon raising funds too.

Having a passion for cooking and providing delicious food is a good quality to have. We learnt that managing a large, centralized kitchen requires a lot more. Armed with this knowledge, the young executives are all set to continue with their midday meal kitchen activity and take it to fruition.



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