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Meet Vanessa, Chef Manager at Chestnut Tree House

Friday 15 May 2020

From fuelling care staff ready for a long shift to cutting food into funky shapes for children with life-shortening conditions, Vanessa, Chef Manager at Chestnut Tree House is responsible for feeding the care team, children, young adults and families at your local children’s hospice.

In between preparing some scVanessa imagerummy lunch treats and baking a delicious dessert, Vanessa had a chance to sit down to tell us all about a day in the kitchen at the hospice.

Can you tell us about your role?

I am the Chef Manager and have been working at Chestnut Tree House in the catering team for over 15 years. This means that I am responsible for managing the kitchen and the catering team, planning the menu, ordering the groceries, cooking meals, preparing for special events and lots more!

There are 5 of us in the team and between the hours of 8am and 7pm there is always one of us in the kitchen every day of the year apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We are on stand-by over the Christmas period, as while the House is closed for respite breaks, it remains open for crisis care, end-of-life care and bereavement support. So, I could get a call on Christmas Eve to come in.

What’s your favourite part of your role?

The interaction with the children is my favourite part of my role – we have an open plan kitchen and dining area, so they love to hang out at the counter. It is all singing and dancing down here! I also love catering for the special events, such as the children’s parties – it is amazing to see so many smiley faces come together.

But, one of the most magical parts about my role is feeding the children and families. This means that Mum and Dad can sit down, relax and eat with their children – this is not something they usually get a chance to do at home. It’s a real treat for them and they are so happy that they can spend time together, eat delicious food and most importantly, not have to worry about the washing up.

What’s the most popular meal that you cook?

We cater for the care team, children, families and the staff and volunteers at the House so we try out lots of different meals. But, without a doubt, fish and chips, chicken nuggets and spaghetti Bolognese!

We always have a few choices for each mealtime so people can choose what they would like. We are very flexible with what we cook and adapt it to each individual child’s needs. We have children that have dairy free or gluten free diets, for example, and some need pureed meals as they cannot digest solid foods or swallow certain consistencies. There are lots of different requirements. We have a menu just for the children in case they don’t like what’s on the main menu. They are our most important customers, so they deserve special attention!

We also try to be as imaginative as possible and make every meal one to remember for the children. For example, there’s one young man who loves his food but has difficulty chewing and swallowing. He will often request meals such as a burger in a bun, a hotdog, chicken nuggets and chips, chicken wrap. Our challenge is to blend all the components separately and reshape them to resemble the meal requested – we are a creative bunch!

For 17 years Chestnut Tree House has been there for local children and families when it matters most. But, coronavirus is having a devastating impact on our funding. Now more than ever, the children and families who depend on Chestnut Tree House need the help of friends like you. Visit www.chestnut-tree-house.org.uk/sos to help save your local children’s hospice now.