After preparing and serving meals to thousands of students over the past four decades, Christine Conway will today retire from working life in the school kitchen.
Having inherited a love of cooking and baking from her mother, the Ballykelly woman learned her trade at the catering college in Portrush, going on to work at schools locally in Coleraine in the early 1960s.
The Garvagh native has, however, spent the majority of her career as School Meals Supervisor at Limavady Grammar School.
“I will miss it, but I have so many good memories,” she says.
Over the years Christine has witnessed countless changes to school dinners, from how they’re prepared to how students access meals.
When she started out in her career, potatoes and vegetables arrived by the sack load, and everything had to be washed and peeled by hand. Back then she recalls even having to wash the cutlery. Nowadays, food comes in a more prepared state, and there are many more guidelines regarding nutrition and health and safety, to be followed. Kitchen resources have also come a long way, with the latest up to date industrial appliances at hand.
Dinners were traditionally “meat and two veg”, says Christine, whereas today’s school dinner environment is more attractive with a number of options, from vegetarian menus to sandwiches and baguettes on offer. Chips are the only fried food and served on just two days a week. The introduction of computers and imaging technology for pupils taking dinners has been one of the biggest changes Christine has witnessed.
“I never thought I would see the day,” she said, “but it has made things so much easier, especially ordering food.”
Christine, the first person to be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Northern Ireland Caterers’ Association, says she will really miss students.
“They have been just lovely at the Grammar. I can’t say one bad thing. They have all been brilliant,” she says. “There have been days when I serve a student and think, ‘I served your mother or father and now I’m serving you! It’s time for me to go!’”
Christine will also miss her colleagues, who she hails as lifelong friends - “a lovely bunch of girls”.
So what has Christine planned for retirement?
Staying close to her roots, her daughter, Heather, who she served many a school meal to at the Grammar, has registered her for a gourmet cooking course.
“It’s been very rewarding and I have enjoyed it,” says Christine of her career, “otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed for so long. I will definitely miss the craic and the staff and students, but life goes on!”