‘Masterchef’: Interview with Craig Dewhurst, care cook of the year 2010

Cooking tasty, nutritious meals to a tight budget for older people in a care home is a challenge Craig Dewhurst relishes. Natalie Valios spoke to the award-winning chef

Cooking tasty, nutritious meals to a tight budget for older people in a care home is a challenge Craig Dewhurst relishes. Natalie Valios spoke to the award-winning chef

(Picture: Craig Dewhurst – “I wanted to get my teeth into a different sector of catering” Credit: Simon Hadley/UNP)

What Jamie Oliver did for school dinners, Craig Dewhurst would love to do for residential care home meals. Dewhurst was recently named the National Association of Care Catering’s (NACC) Care Cook of the Year 2010 and wants to use the accolade to promote the fact that it is possible to devise good-quality, healthy, nutritionally-balanced, tasty meals on a shoestring budget.

Dewhurst, who is head chef at Elizabeth Finn Homes’ Rashwood home in Wychbold, Worcestershire, won the title after beating five other Regional Care Cook of the Year when representing the Midlands in the national final.

The food issue: why food is at the heart of social care

The aim of the annual NACC contest is to raise the profile of this sector of the catering industry. Each participant had to create four portions of a two-course meal suitable for their service users, adhering to nutritional guidance, on a budget of just £1.30 per head – less than the average for school dinners. They then had to prepare their chosen menu in a 90-minute cook-off.

Colourful and tasty

Derek Johnson, NACC chair, said: “The quality of entries in this year’s competition was exceptional and reflects the rising standard of food in the care sector. All the finalists showed what can be achieved on a budget – producing exceptional food not only suitable for the care sector but any catering operation. The future of care catering will be safe in the hands of these finalists and their forward-thinking employers.

“Craig’s winning dish was the ‘icing on the cake’ and met the nutritional requirements of an older person, along with being colourful and tasty.”

Dewhurst knew what he wanted to do from an early age – he was already interested in food as an 11-year-old, and by the time he was 14 had a weekend job in a restaurant where he ended up running the cold and pastry section. “After school I did a three-year apprenticeship for [hotel chain] Queens Moat International and never looked back.”

Eighteen years later, he decided to turn his hand to care catering. “I had achieved a lot of my goals in the restaurant and hotel world. I’d worked in Switzerland, Germany and London and decided I needed to get my teeth into a different sector of catering.”

He started his first job, at Rashwood, in June 2009. This residential and nursing home has 53 residents, so catering to individual health and nutritional needs can be a challenge, he says.

“Each person has a care plan which includes their dietary needs so we can follow that from the outset. We make it our business to know our residents and their requirements very well and communication is good between care staff, nurses and chefs.

“We go into the dining room every day to ask them what they thought of the food and there are residents’ meetings where we consult them about the seasonal change of menu.”

At lunchtime there is a choice of meat, fish and vegetarian courses, two or three vegetables and two kinds of potato, as well as a choice of dessert. Menus are put out the night before to whet residents’ appetites and if someone doesn’t want anything on the menu, Dewhurst is happy to cook something that they will eat.

The social side of food

He sees catering as being a core part of the care that people receive in residential homes. As well as providing a nutritional benefit, he says: “Many residents really look forward to lunch and dinner. There is a social side to it because it’s a chance for them to meet up in the dining areas.”

With only £3 a head to cover breakfast, lunch, tea and supper, Dewhurst and his team are constantly challenged to produce good food on a budget. But rather than be daunted by this, he says: “You have to become more creative with food when money is tight so it becomes more fun.”

Which is where the idea for becoming an ambassador comes in – to show those in care catering who might think low cost equals low quality that this need not so.

Meanwhile, Dewhurst is planning to enter more competitions, and is looking forward to judging next year’s NACC Care Cook of the Year: “That will be fun because there’ll be no pressure on me.”

More information on the Care Cook of the Year awards 

Winning menu

Main course

Poached fillet of haddock

Rosti potatoes

Wilted spinach

Poached egg and marjoram butter


Dark chocolate and espresso cream with orange tuile biscuit

 Full main course recipe

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