A look behind the scene at HMP Dovegate’s Catering Department

(open 365 days a year)
– this is just one of them

Want to know how over one thousand prisoners get their meals ready and on time every day?

A member of HMP Dovegate’s catering team explains how.

The team begins to arrive at the prison from 0615, collecting keys and radios on the way in (the working day for chefs starts at 0645, but we do like a brew first thing). We open the kitchen ready for the events of the day which involves security checks, checking all equipment is working and areas are safe and ready to use, fridge & freezer temperatures and the dishwasher is turned on ready for the mountains of washing up required. Paperwork is completed, checked and ready for the production for the day. Then checking that everything that should have been done for today, has been done!

Someone will go to collect the Bistro kitchen worker who gets the staff breakfast underway. Another will take and collect the daily laundry. Then it’s time for the wing staff to collect the fresh milk for 1160 breakfasts. The prisoners are offered a cold breakfast which consists of cereal, milk, bread and butter. They are also given a weekly hot drink pack consisting of four daily hot drinks.

0730 is here before we know it and Dave Harrison, the Chef Supervisor, walks in – “anyone for a brew or quick breakfast?” It’s time for the daily briefing – this is the time to organise the shift as jobs and tasks are detailed off, who’s doing what and what is planned for the day, any issues encountered the previous day or information that needs to be relayed.

After this, it’s time to gather around the menu board (lovingly written up the day before, hopefully by someone with good handwriting skills) for the final check of the day’s production. Now, time to start the ‘mise en place’ (advanced preparation-some of us are classically trained!), lunch preparation which consists of soup, cold rolls, baguettes and pasty or sausage roll type offering, with crisps, snack bars or fruit. The team is in full swing now setting up the preparation bays with the food, commodities and equipment required.

Matt White, the Catering Manager, enters just before 0800 ready to ‘steer the ship’ usually to a freshly made cup of Yorkshire Gold Tea (not that he’s from Yorkshire). A jovial ‘hello’ in the morning from him which always adds to the atmosphere – most chef teams are an odd mix and this one is no different, some real personalities which makes it such a great team to work with.

We are informed the prisoners are on route to help in the kitchens, so we have to staff the doors (who is and isn’t turning up is the question). They walk from the houseblocks across the prison and arrive at our door with the food trolleys, they are ready for work once they have changed into uniforms with boots, hats and have washed their hands. Issuing of knives & tools is next, briefing the workers on their jobs for the morning, sometimes a short affair but some do like to chat. The usual questions of “do I have to do that all on my own” or “is it right I’ve got 400 tuna baguettes to make, sure a four-man job!” Really, we chefs need the patience of a saint!

During the remainder of the morning until 1100 is spent ensuring we are ready for the trolleys to go back for lunch. At 1030 the 23 food trolleys are counted, not an easy feat, but the chefs take this in their stride to ensure they are correct as per the order sheets; the wing staff are informed that their trolleys will be ready for collection at 1100. The staff arrive, the prisoners are searched, then the train of food trolleys trundle back to the various areas to serve lunch.

We don’t just feed the prisoners; staff get to sample some of our delightful offerings. As well as breakfast, lunch is served from 1130–1300 – an affordably-priced menu offering main meals and desserts as well as a selection of baguettes, paninis and salads to choose from. This is all produced in the small staff Bistro kitchen which is within the main kitchen.

Back to the prisoner’s meals now – the trolleys have gone and a quick respite from the organised chaos before some staff return to tell us of any shortages or issues they may have (we call these ring-downs). Usually very few normally for lunch but the ‘volunteered’ chef must assist with any queries and puts right any miscounts or ‘missing’ items. A final sweep of the kitchen now and a brief at the menu board again, with a look forward to the afternoon and asking what have or haven’t done with the odd, ‘I thought you were doing that’ thrown in to the conversation. By midday, any issues addressed, and a plan set for the afternoon session; time for a well-earned lunch break, a rare event for a chef to sit and have lunch at the time lunch is supposed to be eaten! An interesting mix of conversation as per any chef team with all ears subjected to the stories of woe from our very own John ‘aye aye’ MacKay.

The afternoon session takes much the same course as the morning but with a hot five-choice main menu with potatoes, vegetables and sauces, along with desserts and fruit. The prisoners are back down to work, sometimes after a quick ‘siesta’. The afternoon is a hotter and more demanding affair with all the equipment normally at full capacity. Oven trolleys constantly being wheeled out to the hot food trolleys for loading. Staff and prisoners preparing bulk loads of curries, stir fries, bolognaise and hotpots. The mise en place continues for the next day.

It all comes together at 1530 (ish) ready for trolley counting and collection at 1600. It’s a tight operation but the team manage it well albeit some days easier than others. The end of the working day is in sight and now just the ring-downs to deal with, check the kitchen areas for cleanliness, tidiness and ensuring all paperwork and preparation is completed and stored correctly.

Waiting for the prison role to be called correct before we can completely close the kitchen down, you never know what can happen in prison. The role is called and then it is time to complete the closedown procedure, all equipment and all areas are secure and last one out turn the lights off please.

Working in a Catering Department within a Category B prison is very demanding and challenging, but also very rewarding. HMP Dovegate is a complex prison with a population of 1160 and serving meals to this many prisoners across 23 service points is a huge task. One that the team step up to achieve on a daily basis. Described is a ‘normal’ day but add the extra catering requests, meetings to attend, order to submit, deliveries to accept, training to complete – it become even busier.