How many cooks is too many cooks?
How many cooks does it take to spoil the broth, the creamy potato and leek soup or the country pumpkin soup that'll be on offer at a pop-up restaurant in Greerton next week?
‘The Ruapehu' will throw open its doors at Greenpark School from September 18 with a staff of 150 primary school kids – not all chefs, not all front of house but all with carefully defined roles and all very concerned about getting things right. “Because if we get it wrong then we are really going to mess up as a restaurant,” says teacher Ben Brock.
Especially when the mayor has confirmed a booking and the New Zealand cricket captain is trying to clear his schedule for a sitting. Reputations are riding.
It seems an inspired, ambitious and brave enterprise for a primary school and a big leap forward from sausage sizzles. “Oh, I don't know,” reassures Ben. “What's the worst thing that can happen?” Fawlty Towers comes to mind. But apparently everything at ‘The Ruapehu' is tracking very nicely. “And it's all very exciting stuff.”
Greenpark School in Lumsden St has a new technology suite, a third of which is a fully-kitted-out kitchen.” It's amazing,” says Ben. “And we thought it was important to give the kids a real life work experience.”
So they decided on a pop-up restaurant – ‘The Ruapehu' – and they fitted that concept into the reading, writing and math curriculum. It was crucial research – reading was all about how restaurants work, writing has been letters, emails and menus and math has been about quantities.
“If a loaf of bread has 120 grams of flour, and the flour comes in 1.5 kilo bags, and we have two loaves of bread per table for five days – how much flour do we need?”
The menu was compiled by the teachers after consultation with the kids. “They suggested steak and fish. They would have to be cooked to order and that would have been difficult. “Most of the cooking will happen next week.” They're trying to remove as many variables as they can.
“Like the soups. Then we freeze it and thaw it on the day as and when we need it.”
So a choice of New Zealand water infused with organic lemon, mint or orange. Then the choice of soups and freshly home-baked bread. Mains of traditional beef lasagna served with fresh green salad and light balsamic dressing or rustic vegetable curry served with basmati rice. And a dessert choice of decadent chocolate brownie or a mouth-watering lemon drizzle cake with Greek yoghurt.
“Because we aren't an established restaurant, there won't be set prices,” says Ben. “We are asking patrons to donate what they think the meal is worth.”
And the kids are loving it. “If you look at the amount of cooking on television, all the cooking shows. Well, they have picked up on it.”
And because even math is based on the restaurant at the moment, they are really engaged. “It means something to them, it's not just the idea, we are going to serve and eat food; we are learning something that actually means something to us.”
Even the blokes have bought in. There will be lots of jobs on the day ‘The Ruapehu' opens and not everyone will be based in the kitchen.
“We have done a lot of work on service – service will be 50 per cent of how much people will pay for their meal. The restaurant will have its own paparazzi, maitre ds and dishwashers.”
Even learning how to wash hands properly – to a restaurant kitchen standard – has been an eye opener for some of the kids. “We don't want to be serving food that adults will look at and think ‘no thank you, a child has touched that'.”
Profits? They have no idea. “But it would be nice to make our end-of-year school trip, a day's surfing at the beach, as cheap as possible for parents.”
Did they know when choosing the name Ruapehu for their restaurant that when broken into components rua is two and pehu, explosion or loud noise?
The Ruapehu will be open five days from Monday, September 18 – five lunchtime sittings between 12.30-2pm.