Enterprising hospitality and catering students at Chesterfield College have dished out thousands of pounds to good causes.
Themed dining nights are a big draw for members of the public who support auctions and raffles, bidding for prizes donated by businesses.
A total of more than £2,000 is expected to be raised from the current night-time dining season which closes at the end of the month and will resume with a new intake of students in October.
Students pick the beneficiaries which this year have included Macmillan Nurses and Ashgate Hospice.
Chesterfield-based Fairplay was the chosen charity at an American themed night organised by Adam White and Emma Over.
Emma, whose sister works for Fairplay, said: “I have a disabled brother so the charity is close to my heart. James is 22, blind, can’t walk or talk, has epilepsy, mild cerebral palsy and has seizures. I love him so much and thought it would be a good idea to raise money for people like him with disabilities.”
Adam said: “Fairplay is a community charity which is not that well known and quite small. There are so many charities which are much more recognisable and get more awareness.
“I chose America as the theme because it’s the place that I’m desperate to go to. I’m a fan of American country music from the 70s and 80s - Conway Twitty is my idol.”
Emma, 16, of Shirland and Adam, 17, of South Normanton are on the BTec Level 2 diploma in hospitality and catering.
Their lecturer Janet Lacey said: “All the students need an opportunity to plan an event, it’s a big assignment on which they work in pairs, choose what the theme is, choose the charity.
“The students need to have a realistic working environment - it’s not role play, it’s real work. They have to work quickly, professionally, in front of real people and offer good customer service.
“The best thing is that when the students start, they are not very confident; you see them eight months later and they are running the event themselves. I stand back and let them organise the whole thing. It’s thrilling to see how much they are able to supervise their team, liaise with the chef, plan the menu, write to businesses and speak to the customers.
“I love seeing happy customers. They are so supportive of the students, get to know their names and show an interest in what they are doing. We have had a few minor accidents, a bit of wine spilled or a bread roll in someone’s lap. The customers are our guinea pigs and are mostly understanding.”
Themed dining has become so popular that they are now held every Thursday night during term time from October to May.
Regular customers Red Clifton and Pam Briddon have been attending them for five years.
Pam said: “Three courses for £18 is extremely good value. The kids are very friendly, outgoing and you can see them mature as they go through the course. They are also competitive about how much they can raise for charity.”
Red, who was christened Lionel and earned his nickname because of his red hair, said: “We’ve had some fantastic meals - Greek, Hawaiian, Jamaican.”
The retired couple, who live in Dymond Grove, Grassmoor, were among more than 40 diners supporting the American themed evening which offered a choice of three starters and three mains, followed by a dessert.
I opted for a delicious creamy corn chowder, followed by burger and chips then chocolate cola cake, blueberry pancakes and vanilla ice cream.
The desserts were prepared by Leanne Billyeald and Victoria Jordan, students on the Level 3 professional cookery course.
Leanne, 18, from Spital, Chesterfield, said: “Cooking 50 little pancakes was the most time-consuming. It’s pressured in the kitchen but I love it.”
The students get the opportunity to prepare different courses on different nights. Leanne enjoys doing starters while Victoria, 19, from Glapwell likes making desserts with baked cheesecake with blueberries being her favourite.
Ian Matthews, chef lecturer, has worked at the college for seven years. He started a teaching course while he worked with the Compass group in Chesterfield during which he won many competitions, including medals and awards at Hotel Olympia.
He said: “We work very closely together as a department, we are like one big family, and it is very rewarding to see the students achieve their potential.
“We have to try and cover our costs, so we work closely with our suppliers and try to use locally sourced seasonal produce. We also teach the students the value of the ingredients, trying to use quality but cheaper cuts where we can.”
The college restaurant is also open to the public at lunchtimes during term times, serving three-course fine dining meals on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for £8.95 and bistro meals on Monday and Friday which cost £3.75 for a main course and £1.25 each for a starter and a pudding.
Janet Lacey, a lecturer and personal tutor in hospitality, said: “We have WIs, church and charity groups coming to dine but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know we’re here.”
Reservations can be made by calling Alisa Elsom or Keiron Finney on 01246 500596.