In A first for Scotland, Glasgow City Council Catering and Cleaning Services has opened a central distribution kitchen devoted to preparing Asian dishes. What is special about the Asian Cuisine Central Production Unit (CPU) is that there is such a powerful demand.
Its target has already been smashed. The CPU was opened in January with the goal of selling 30,000 meals to schools in Glasgow this year, but 32,000 meals were sold in the first four months. With such success so early, area manager Rajendra Prasad is now aiming to increase the 2,700 meals sold each week to 6,000.
Asian Cuisine was set up by the council's direct services organisation (DSO) at the city's St John's Secondary School, where a training kitchen was standing idle. The DSO was buying in 18,000 ethnic meals a year from Laisterdyke CPU in Bradford, but this was not cost-effective. What's more, the council was missing the market. Ethnic food was only going out to those schools in which there was a high Asian population. What the council had at that stage failed to recognise was that most children nowadays, regardless of culture, enjoy Asian food.
"I could see Asian restaurants flourishing and I couldn't see any reason why it would not work," says Prasad.
Realising that the popularity of Asian cooking was being ignored, the department has widened the market base to encompass all 249 primary and secondary schools as well as social work locations, staff restaurants and civic functions. About 20% of hostels and old-age care houses are also customers. The DSO's ambitions don't stop there. The aim is to sell the service to schools in other local authorities. In the long term, Prasad has even identified hospitals as a potential market.
So far, 20 of Glasgow's 38 secondary schools are buying from Asian Cuisine, and this is expected to increase across the board. Dishes from Asian Cuisine are also being written into Junior Diner Club menus in Glasgow's primary schools.
As the mark-up on all school meals is small, the 52-weeks-a-year operation is relying on high production. To develop internal markets, Prasad is inviting catering managers to the kitchens to sample the food and learn about the operation.
In line with the religious beliefs of Muslims and Hindus, halal meat is always used, supplied by local halal butchers, and meat and vegetable dishes are kept separate during preparation and cooking. Dishes currently include pakoras, samosas, keema rolls and a few main curry dishes with rice, but this range will be increased.
Prepared by a three-strong kitchen team, the food is cooked, portioned and blast-frozen before being distributed from the unit in chilled vehicles, which the council already has for its meals-on-wheels services. The dishes are intended to be eaten within three or four days.