Magda Ganea (23) of The Real Food Café in Tyndrum, Stirlingshire, won the accolade of UK 2nd place in the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Competition as part of the 2018 National Fish & Chip Awards – here we find out a little more about Magda’s journey into the world of fish and chips.
How did you first get involved in the fish and chip industry?
I came to Scotland from Romania in 2016 at the age of 21 to make a better life and give myself more opportunities. I wasn’t aware of fish and chips until I was employed at The Real Food Café, Tyndrum where Colin McGeoch, one of the café’s managers and former finalist in the Young Fish Frier of the Year Competition, started to train me and got me interested and inspired in the industry and also encouraging me to consider entering the annual Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Competition, supported by the rest of the team and the owners of The Real Food Café.
What was your knowledge and views of fish and chips before you started working in the sector?
Before coming in Scotland I didn’t know too much about it, but from the minute I became aware of fish and chips I loved making them, learning about the technical details regarding their preparation and cooking, and especially I loved eating them!
What aspects of your job do you like the most?
I enjoy striving for perfection in my preparation of fish and chips – so learning and paying attention to the fine detail involved in making great fish and chips day in day out, is my favourite thing. I also very much enjoy training other people in the team.
Have you noticed any changes in what customers ask for with regards to portion sizes when ordering their fish and chips? Are they asking for a greater choice of portion sizes? Are they asking for the option of smaller portion sizes?
At The Real Food Café we have always offered four different portion sizes of fish and chips – and what we call the ‘snack size’ portion, which is the smallest portion on offer (apart from the children’s portion), is the second biggest seller item in the restaurant.
What initiatives has The Real Food Café undertaken to cater for customers with any food allergies?
We are proud to be very proactive in this area. We recently invested in a new cooking range with a separate pan for use when cooking items for people with food allergies. We fry with rapeseed oil, a cooking oil that contains no allergens. We have also held an A Grade standard as an Accredited Caterer from Coeliac UK www.coeliac.org.uk/home for the past three years and we offer gluten free fish and chips all day, every day. We also have a wider gluten free menu including gluten free cakes. Additionally, we have a dedicated page on our website containing a variety of allergen information, and we publicise information about the fourteen regulated allergens on ‘table talker’ cards located on all the tables in the café. At the cash till on the serving area, we also have a booklet containing menu information and what allergens each and every menu item contains.
What initiatives has The Real Food Café undertaken to educate and inform customers where/how the food they are eating is sourced?
The topics of traceability, sustainability and responsible sourcing very important to us at The Real Food Cafe. We display a food map on the wall in the café and on our website, setailing where our many ingredients are sourced from. We display roundel stickers on the entrance door to the café, from The Scotch Beef Club and Eat Scotland, both organisations of which we are members of. We work closely with F. Smales & Son (Fish Merchants) Limited who supply us with all our fish. Our cod and haddock are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), meaning that it is only sourced from sustainable fish stocks. Our menu also informs customers where the food they are ordering and eating, has come from.
Owing to its location – on one of the main roads leading from the Central Belt of Scotland to the Oban and Fort William areas – The Real Food Café attracts many UK and foreign tourists as customers – what is the funniest thing any customer has ever asked for when placing an order or eating at The Real Food Café?
There are many things that customers often ask for that are strange due to regional differences and preferences – before we even get onto the topic of different languages – but probably the one which is most different throughout all our different UK based customers, is the term used to ask for a bread roll! It can include a bread cake, a buttered bap, a teacake, a buttered cob and/or a buttered roll …. not easy to teach members of the café’s serving team; especially when like me you are doing everything in a second language! But the funniest thing we’ve ever been asked for was a customer’s false teeth! They had eaten at the café and taken their teeth out and wrapped them in a napkin, then departed the café and sometime later on realised that didn’t have their teeth in, so they came back in a panic looking for them!
Are there any particular things you would like to see the wider fish and chip industry do to try and attract young people to pursue a career in fish and chips?
As the UK runner up in the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Competition, I have made appointments with two schools to go and make presentations to groups of their pupils about career opportunities in the fish and chip industry. We can all do our bit to help attract younger people to the industry by making a safe and positive environment for them to work and learn in. As far as the wider industry is concerned, it would be great to see the establishment of a Modern Apprenticeship in fish and chips in addition to the general Hospitality Industry Apprenticeship which currently exists.
What initiatives has The Real Food Café undertaken to attract more younger customers?
We maintain a variety of external signage and printing on our uniforms highlighting that we are family friendly establishment – with a range of family meal deals, kids meal offers, kids activity sheets. We support the younger element of our local community via sponsorship of Oban mini rugby team, we reach out to local schools to undertake educational presentations about food and our business, we host meetings of the local youth group, and we also specialise in catering for large groups of school children and visiting Scout groups from around the world.
Are there any other particular things you think fish and chip shops could do to attract more younger customers?
Rather than thinking purely ‘young', at The Real Food Café we think ‘active’. We have been very successful at aligning fish and chips as a great ‘fuel’ for active people. This market tends to be more concerned with quality as opposed to price and they will therefore often pay a premium for good quality fish and chips. Our location in the Scottish Highlands lends well to us serving many customers who visit the area to enjoy outdoor sports and pursuits. Over recent years there has been and continues to be huge growth in cycling and outdoor endurance racing in the UK which makes for a lot of hungry customers that need to fuel or re-fuel.
If you could change one major thing about fish and chips, what might that be?
I would like to change two things! Firstly, to see a raising of standards more widely in the industry, because there are unfortunately many shops which continue to serve poor quality food – which is bad for the reputation of fish and chips as a whole. The better we all are the better for the industry and the reputation of fish and chips as a top notch meal option. Secondly, I would like to see a reduction in the level of VAT that is levied on fish and chips!
What has your success in the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Award meant to you?
It has opened my eyes and given me a wider perspective on the industry. I am loving every minute of it and feel proud to be a role model in my work place and within the wider industry. I want my contribution to make a difference and I see this as the start of my journey in the world of fish and chips.
The Real Food Café www.therealfoodcafe.com
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