Yes, Chef, or, What exactly do our boys like to do in the evening and at the weekend?

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By Clive Burch, Deputy Housemaster, New Boys’ Flat

Last summer I wrote an ‘action research’ paper as part of my Boarding Schools Association Certificate of Professional Development in Boarding Education. One element of this was to gather the opinions of the boys in our care about ‘on flat’ routines and activities (using something similar to Question Donkey). One section addressed what they prefer to do during their down-time in the evening on flat. The clear top three answers were: play football, watch a film and cook.

When colleagues ask me on my evening duty where a particular boy is (perhaps to give feedback on a prep, or lack thereof), if they are not outside playing football, or pursuing some other appropriate outdoor activity, weather permitting, or chilling out watching Webfilmz in their or a friend’s dorm, they are often to be found in the kitchen. As much as the housemasters argue that their offices are each the heart of the flat and the matrons would like to think that their surgery is the centre of attention, it is in fact the kitchen that is the hub of activity most nights.

Why? Well, it would be all too easy to say that boys love to eat. However, our boys also love to cook. This is not only reflected by the popularity of the GBBO (Great Bedales Bake Off) activities with their matrons at the weekend, but also their strong take-up of cooking activities run by certain ‘friends of Boys’ Flat’ in the week, as well as the ever-popular Outdoor Work Bakehouse option. And it’s not just bacon sandwiches (my own personal speciality) that they cook on their own. Our boys bring in a variety of ingredients from home or Pefe (Petersfield to the rest of the world) and produce a wide range of multi-cultural fare for their fourth (!) cooked meal of the day. Sure, there’s still the odd Kettle Pasta, but more often than not there is something that looks, smells and undoubtedly tastes good, leaving those of us on duty decidedly jealous.

However, clearing up after themselves remains an issue for some. Why anyone would leave their rubbish on the side for someone else to clear away rather than put it in the bin, I don’t know. Similarly, why would they leave their used crockery and cutlery on the table rather than put it in the dishwasher (let alone wash it up) themselves? I’m sure they don’t do this at home, so why the aftermath here? (Sorry, but I had to get math(s) in somewhere!) This mystery remains something for me to ponder upon in my own down-time as I enjoy something chilled with my Geronimo’s pizza before drifting off (down-stream?) to another outpouring from a certain South American river…

So, I am left thinking, what can we take away (my last pun in this missive) from this? Kudos to those celebrity chefs out there who continue to make cooking ‘cool’, and the parents who are encouraging their children to prepare meals for themselves, their family and friends. Perhaps rather than asking ‘what’s cooking?’ we should all be asking ‘who’s cooking?’.