The Chefs’ Forum Discussed Dysphagia at Exeter Cookery School!

The Chefs’ Forum was delighted to hold its final event of 2019 at Exeter Cookery School on Monday (18) November.   The well-attended event saw 70 top chefs and medical experts from across Devon and Somerset, gather at the beautifully-converted textile warehouse for a day of culinary brilliance, knowledge share and menu inspiration.  Learners from City College Plymouth and South Devon College had the valuable opportunity to showcase their skills to potential employers.

The event took on a slightly different format in that a market research focus group was assembled for Somerset-based charity, Eating With Dignity to establish the level of knowledge or the apparent level of knowledge gap amongst chefs about the medical condition Dysphagia.  Dysphagia is where a person struggles to swallow certain foods as they may have had an illness or accident which has affected the normal swallow function, putting them at risk of choking if the food is not prepared to their medically diagnosed dysphagia level in accordance with the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI).

For the last month, The Chefs’ Forum has been conducting a national survey on behalf of Eating With Dignity into the level of understanding of dysphagia amongst chefs.  Research has uncovered a huge neeGuestsd to raise awareness and educate chefs as to the condition.  Heidi Reynolds lives with Parkinson’s Disease and has been diagnosed with dysphagia.  On asking for flatbread instead of bread in a restaurant once, Heidi was once told

“We can’t cater for every whim Madam!”

Heidi cannot swallow bread due to its texture.

Dysphagia isn’t a ‘whim’, rather a legitimate medical condition caused as a result of an accident, stroke or illness such as cancer and should be taken every bit as seriously as an allergy.

Heidi is working with Jack Stein and the Rick Stein restaurant group to raise the profile of Dysphagia and recently produced this film:

Jazzi Curley, Chef Tutor at Exeter Cookery School said

“People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing, so it may mean we have to look at the consistency of food on the menu and see if we can’t adapt it to suit IDDSI guidelines, such as puree or fitting through the prongs of a fork”.

Exeter Cookery School with its huge oak tables provided the perfect round-table environment for the group to discuss the condition and how chefs could better-accommodate the needs of people with Jazzi BBC interviewDysphagia. The infographic below was produced by The Chefs’ Forum to enable chefs to understand the various levels and consistencies required.  The Chefs’ Forum will work with Eating With Dignity on menu development, hopefully producing a guide to dysphagia-friendly restaurants across the UK.

Former Masterchef finalist Jim and Company Director/professional bon viveur Lucy, are no strangers to owning and running a world class-cookery school, their first venture, CookinFrance, saw the couple move to the Dordogne in South West France to set up a cookery school offering cooking lessons to locals and travellers alike. Despite the bemusement of the locals at an Englishman teaching anyone to cook, ‘Cook in France’ became something of a phenomenon.

Eighteen years later, Jim and Lucy were delighted to welcome fellow members of the Devon chef scene to the beautifully-designed quayside cookery school for a second time.  The Chefs’ Forum was thrilled tSouth Devon College Studentso return to the venue for the second time to hold an event in the cookery school and on this occasion, it was filmed by BBC Spotlight.

The day kicked-off with Jim working with students form City College Plymouth and South Devon College to prepare and serve stunning signature canapés in the open plan cookery school.  It was great for the learners to cook amongst the attending guests as opposed to working back of house.  The visiting chefs could really assess their skills and ability.  The students worked brilliantly with Jim to produce a mouth-watering array of signature canapés:

All ingredients for the canapé reception and demo that followed were kindly donated by Chefs’ Forum Sponsors Tim Potter Catering Butchers, Total Produce, Koppert Cress and Ritter Courivaud.

Franco first slit the skin down to the trotter to expose the topside and shank.  The shank was then deboned and the shank bone spit in two, through the natural joint. The smaller part of the bone was often used as a mustard spoon due to its natural spoon-like form.

Franco then removed Franco Butchery demothe pork tenderloin ready for trimming.  The spider muscle Franco Macellaio of The Urban Butchery Channel then took to the butchers block to showcase some brilliant pork butchery from a Wessex Pork leg, which the chefs found fascinating.  Franco chose to demonstrate a ‘Pork Leg Reduction’, which is a great cut for chefs as it requires a shorter cooking time. It’s an even joint, making for even cooking and is suitable to make into smaller joints as well as being perfect for carvery as it offers equal portions.was then separated from the H-Bone and the H-Bone removed.

Franco used a traditional butcher’s ham gouge to work around the femur bone to ensure it was cleanly released without any slashing inside of the leg.  Next was the removal of the topside ready for steaking later in the demonstration.  Franco then cut the thick muscle in half to reduce the pork leg down.  He used the palm of his hand to check for any bone chips, gristle or blood meat to make for the optimum eating experience.

The rind was then scored and the leg rolled using a traditional continual knot, great for chefs as they only need to cut the string once for removal.

The demo culminated in Franco cutting steaks from the topside to showcase the value of the Pork Leg Reduction in maximising profit and saving money of the bottom line.

Sue Reynard talking about DysphagiaSue Renyard of Eating With Dignity took to the floor to tell the chefs about the earlier focus group and invited them to ask about dysphagia, inviting them to get involved in the campaign to raise awareness.  Joined by Geriatrician Vikky Morris and GP Rupert Sells, the medical experts were able to educate the chefs on the dangers of not getting it right in line with IDDSI guidelines.  The chefs were very receptive and welcomed the opportunity to learn about the condition.

Vikky Morris, Consultant Geriatrician said

Eating with Dignity flyer“We have special V symbols for vegan friendly food, we could and should be doing the same for people who have swallowing difficulties.  It is very important that people with dysphagia have confidence to go out to eat, without worrying about whether their needs can and will be accommodated.  It has been great to work with The Chefs’ Forum today to raise awareness of the condition and we have been delighted with the chefs’ input and contribution to the focus group.”

Next was Jim’s demo of Tim Potter’s Somerset lamb as he created cannon of lamb cooker sous-vide.

Jim Said

“I was delighted to welcome the chefs to the school today, it has been hard work bringing it all together.  It was very interesting to learn about dysphagia, the butchery was fantastic and the quality of Tim Potter’s meat, excellent! Today has been an amazing opportunity to bring the chefs and students together to galvanise the industry and safeguard its future.”

TTW RecruitmentOther highlights of the day included Gavin from Foie Royale giving an introduction to the ethical alternative to foie gras, Sam Guarino of Santa Maria presenting the fantastic range of Santa Maria herbs and spices and TTW Recruitment giving a talk on attracting, recruiting and retaining staff.

This Chefs’ Forum event showed that the Devon food scene and its members are a group of experts who can offer valuable insight to any brand or cause looking to build a business case.

It was great to shine the spotlight on dysphagia and fantastic to see so many young people headed for greatness, working with true food experts and joining forces with great chefs to celebrate local culinary talent.

Photography by