This week I came across a new pop up dining event with a special focus on community. The enterprising students of Linlithgow Academy are setting up a temporary restaurant that for the next week will be serving delicious food to the local inhabitants and visitors to Linlithgow. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and determination so I decided to help spread the word by asking them a few questions about the project…
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the project, the people involved and what you’re hoping to achieve?
A: In January 2013 the BBC came to our school and asked us to set up a takeaway – that’s all they said and we were left to decide, fundraise and advertise all by ourselves. Our management team is a real mix of people but that makes it all the better! We’re aiming to create a “Guilt Free Night Off for Mums” whilst being healthy, easy and having the ability to personalise the customer’s food to their tastes. The project has taught us so many things – I can now budget, work to schedules and I’m (a bit) less clumsy and messy than beforehand. I genuinely believe everybody taking part has learned something that will help them in later life. What we want to achieve is a redefinition of takeaway – we’re not a greasy chippy or a repetitive pizza place. We’re taking the essentials of speed and easiness whilst providing food of a restaurant standard using locally sourced ingredients. Community has also always been important for us and we’ve attempted to show this in many ways. We held assemblies at the local primaries to discuss local sourcing and how to help farmers in the area; we’ve used produce from nearby where possible and asked the townspeople to invest in the business.
Q: What happens after the week is over?
A: After the week is over us sixth years get back to normal life – which involves very little school work and quite a lot of parties. We’re still unsure of what do do with the profits – ideas have been putting it to local charities, spending it on our ball and holding an event to thank everyone who helped us. However, an idea I really like is to set up something memorable. Whether this is a community garden where people can learn to grow and produce food or it is a fund to spend teaching children in town about food I’m not too sure, but I really want the legacy of Teen Canteen to last beyond the week we are running. The potential is massive and we’ll make sure to take advantage of it!
Q: What type of food will you be serving and do you have any food heroes that have inspired you?
A: We decided to cook Scottish Soul Food – our own unique genre. It involves using the best Scottish ingredients available to us, cooked long and slow with plenty of passion and flavour. It’s the homely food that everyone craves when it’s cold outside and a proper family meal. The food doesn’t necessarily need to be Scottish ‘themed’. E.g. we have a smoky meatball stew and salsa verde on our menu. The main thing is it’s all been made using the best ingredients the country can offer. We’ve been inspired by quite a lot of people after some trips we made. Tom Lewis at Monachyle Moor showed us how prime ingredients can make the best food when treated simply and Ross Baxter of Dunbar bakery showed us how community and food can be linked so closely. Most importantly though, the two chefs who we have worked with closely, who have advised us and helped us understand the practicality of our ideas; Fiona Buchanan and Jonathan Macdonald of Scoop Events in Glasgow. They both helped us go from a bunch of teenagers with some crazy ideas, to teenagers who understand the food business and how we can turn the ideas we have into reality.
Q: West Lothian isn’t an obvious choice for an underground dining event. If you had a choice between staging the canteen in Linlithgow or Edinburgh would you swap?
A: I think we would stay with Linlithgow – the idea of our business being immersed in the community is key to the project and it works perfectly in a small town such as ours. Even though the project may gain more popularity and make us more money in a city, I believe that it’s going to bring so much more to here where everyone talks to each other and cares about their hometown. In my mind, our project should become a flagship and do two things, the first is it should prove to the population teenagers can be proactive and actually accomplish something and secondly it can inspire more people to try this – whether that is a school wide thing like us or simply a bunch of friends who are going to make some good food and take it to their local market to sell. In a city I think we would lose this ability to inspire. We are totally unique in Linlithgow whereas in cities this has been done before, just not by kids!
If like me you’d like to go along and try some Scottish Soul Food or help spread the word, you can find details about the canteen via the links below.