Learning curve: Why (and how) HTA School of Culinary Art launched EAT-IN X HTA

Training and education has had to adapt pretty fast this year, thanks to the Covid-19 Pandemic and subsequent lockdown regulations. After realising that their students’ practical course component was in jeopardy, HTA School of Culinary Art has used the opportunity to open EAT-IN X HTA, a gourmet takeaway that’s allowing students first-hand cooking experience. Chefs from industry are heading up EAT-IN, bringing their experience direct to the students – Chefs Megan Meikle and Wynand van Wyk were working in Madagascar, and Paul Antolik in Tanzania, before repatriating to South Africa just in time for lockdown, and all three are working at EAT-IN on a contractual basis. Chef Brandon Ray is currently employed by Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa and is volunteering in his free time – as they say “a busy chef is a happy chef!”. We chatted with Chef Megan Meikle about the initiative.

EAT-IN X HTAWhy did HTA decide to start operating EAT IN X HTA? The Covid-19 pandemic hit the hospitality and tourism industry hard. It was a surreal and uneasy time as social media began flooding with ‘closure notices’ from some of South Africa’s best chef’s and top restaurants. HTA School of Culinary Art realised that without the industry being open and able to accept students – the practical components of the students’ studies would go incomplete. EAT-IN X HTA was born.

EAT-IN X HTA is an initiative that was developed with the young chef in mind. We are simulating the industry for the trainee chefs, exposing them to all aspects of a working kitchen. From the cooking of the food, to the packaging, hygiene and sanitation, food costing, waste control and stock take. It is an ever-evolving initiative that keeps everyone involved on their toes and ensures that the students are able to gain industry hours, during a time when our hospitality industry cannot accommodate them.

EAT-IN X HTA is based on the premises of HTA School of Culinary Art. Spread over two kitchens and divided into hot kitchen and pastry. Collaborating with industry chefs was at the forefront of this initiative. We believe that if we cannot go into the industry, we would bring the industry to the students at HTA.

EAT-IN X HTAWhy do you think this is important for the students? This initiative has been so wonderful for the students’ morale. Chatting with the students at the beginning of this programme, there was a lot of uncertainty, about the future, about whether they would be able to qualify, about their career choice. As we have progressed with this initiative, we have been able to work with these students and encourage them and invest time in them, in ways that would not have happened if not for EAT-IN X HTA during this pandemic.

Our concept is student centric. This has allowed for a unique set up, where the students are afforded more practical time, but also more one-on-one time, which is so beneficial – and would not normally occur in industry.

Can you tell us a bit about the operations? We run a very intricate operation at EAT-IN X HTA. Our food is prepared under strict hygiene protocols and adheres to all the Covid-19 regulations. We have teamed up with Enviromall, for all our packaging needs. Their packaging is biodegradable as well as being microwave and oven safe. We send our food out between 3 degrees and 4 degrees Celsius. For this reason we require our guests to book with us one day in advance.

The HTA students are scheduled to EAT-IN throughout the week. They would be required to make up the food on the mise en place list for the day. The menu changes daily so there is usually quite a bit to do.  Bookings are made via WhatsApp.

By 13h30 the packing begins. We also accommodate dietaries and special requests, which needs to be closely monitored. This also gives the students a good insight into what they might expect in industry.

At 15h30 our food is dispatched for delivery. Our guests are notified when their food is on the way to them. The is a great deal of logistics that goes on behind the making of the food, our entire team needs to be in sync at all times.

We run a contactless operation for our guests’ safety, from the booking system to the payments that are made through the YOCO App. We have collection or delivery options, which are streamlined to ensure that the guests are kept safe and informed from the moment they enter on to the premises, and are updated on the status of their food when being delivered.

Can you tell us a bit about how the menu is designed? We have 2 menu options available at EAT-IN X HTA. Our signature designer meals consist of 3 courses and start from R150 per person. We also have an à la carte bistro menu, both include vegetarian options. We set the menu up this way so the students are able to experience time in the bakery, cold kitchen, hot kitchen and pastry.

Our designer meals include an artisan bread, a small starter, a main course and a dessert. We have included various cooking methods and techniques on the menu and we try our best to source interesting proteins that the students might not have had the opportunity to work with before.

We are also open for lunches. Our students are encouraged to run the lunch service as if it were an à la carte restaurant. There is a pasta of the day that the students make and the chefs give direction where needed.

What has been the response from diners? We have built up an amazing following over the last few months. Our guests are really enjoying the food, they are happy with the potion sizes and the packaging. They also find the heating instructions very easy to use and to follow.

Chefs Megan Meikle, Wynand van Wyk, Brandon Ray and Paul Antolik

We are ever-evolving, so we love getting feedback from our guests. We like to use both their positive and constructive feedback to make the EAT-IN X HTA experience better and better.

How long will you continue with EAT IN X HTA? EAT-IN X HTA has surprised everyone involved, in so many exciting and unforeseen ways. The relationships we have been able to build with the students has been eye opening. Our students have discovered talents that they never knew they had, and might not have discovered if not for EAT-IN existing. We are then able to help the students build on these talents and help them to realise their goals.

For these reasons and more, EAT-IN  is securing its place at HTA as a more permanent feature. We are looking at having this initiative be absorbed by the school as another one of HTA School of Culinary Art’s offerings.

EAT-IN X HTA is open Tuesday to Saturday. For bookings, WhatsApp 060 738 9117.

Passionate about food and the hospitality industry, Sarah is the editor for Hospitality Marketplace.

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