Operation Hospital Food with James Martin: The biggest challenge

Series Producer

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There is no denying that hospital food can have a pretty poor reputation and often it is well deserved.

So to be able to work on a BBC One series that aims to improve hospital food, and hopefully change the public’s perception of what is served in our hospitals, has been fantastic.

As the series producer, easily the biggest challenge for me was simply finding and convincing a hospital to open its doors to our cameras and presenter, TV chef James Martin.

James and the catering team at Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital

Myself and the producer/director Johnny Perks travelled all over the country speaking to countless hospital managers but generally they were pretty guarded.

I think this is a natural reaction; why wouldn’t they be wary of a film crew descending on their hospital and exposing their flaws?

I found honesty was the best policy. Yes, we were looking for problems or weaknesses in their food, but the aim of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin is to improve the meals served and leave the catering in a better state than it was in when we arrived.

When we first visited Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital they were very open about the issues they had with the catering department, in particular the overspend, the levels of food returned uneaten from the wards every day, and the low morale of the kitchen team.

Once food has gone up to the wards it can’t be served to anybody else, even when it’s untouched

Head chef Tracey and head of facilities Emma were very keen to take part in the project because they had been warned that unless things changed, the catering department faced the prospect of losing their jobs and an external company being brought in to provide the patients’ meals.

The kitchen team did have concerns with allowing us in, as they didn’t know how James was going to react to them or what changes he would implement, but after a few tense moments they came to realise that he was on their side and his changes were for the better.

Filming in small and noisy working hospital kitchens presented plenty of technical challenges for the crew, but it was the British weather that nearly scuppered one of the big moments of the series.

James asks some of the country's top chefs for a hand

James had invited a group of top class chefs to his home to ask them to join him in his mission.

To set the scene, we put together an outdoor summer garden but after spending most of the day setting up, the proverbial heavens opened! Good old British summer time!

The day was a wash out, but fortunately the chefs took it in good humour. You can enjoy watching them in episode two cooking huddled under golf umbrellas - and they still ate the soggy pizzas they'd all been preparing in the rain.

Throughout the series we faced many challenges but we built up a fantastic relationship with all the staff at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, which made it much easier - especially the early morning starts!

James became very close to everyone we worked with at the hospital. As you’ll see, there were a few difficult situations as emotions ran high, but they always ended positively.

James even treated the team to a day out go-karting to help boost morale, which you don't see in the series.

Everyone got stuck in with the racing especially James and Gaz who were determined to beat each other; I’m still not sure who actually won as they both claim they had the fastest lap!

The highlight has to be being able to play an admittedly small part in transforming hospital food around the country.

At some point we are all going to have a loved one spend time in hospital.  So if the work we have done on Operation Hospital Food makes their stay even a little easier, then the hard work was definitely worth it.

Lucy McLennan the series producer of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin.

Series two of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin begins on Monday, 25 Feburary at 9.15am on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Hospital food: The chef that hopes to improve standards: Read the BBC Food feature

BBC Food: Recipes from Operation Hospital Food with James Martin: Try one of the exclusive recipes from the series

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 94. Posted by Rob Unsworth

    on 28 Feb 2013 15:40

    Hi - I'm the programme's executive producer and wanted to respond to a couple of points raised. Firstly, del (comment #31) - it sadly was the case that only a few of the hospitals we contacted were willing to take part, but that list you refer to in the second episode wasn't a summary of all those that showed an interest - it was simply identifying for the first time the ones that we'd be following throughout the series. There were a handful of other hospitals that - like yours - we contacted in the early stages of research but didn't go any further with because they were either already doing many of the things that James would hope to introduce, or there wasn't a particular issue that he and his brigade of chefs could attempt to tackle. Sorry no-one from the team came back to you to explain that, but rest assured there was no hidden agenda! Thanks for all your comments and hope you enjoy tomorrow's final episode. Also, thanks to Petecool123 (comment #44), Burtiebassett (comment #60), Pixel (comment #62) and Margaret (comment #84) who have pointed out that hair should be tied up or covered when in the kitchen. We filmed across a number of months at the hospital and apologise for those occasions when our presenter and the hospital staff were not wearing hats. It is policy at the Royal Orthopaedic that catering staff should have hair tied back and wearing hats or hair nets as a minimum when preparing or handing food for public or patient consumption. Thanks so much for all the feedback – fantastic to see that the programme has stimulated so much debate.

  • Comment number 20. Posted by Phil Jeffery

    on 25 Feb 2013 17:53

    “Hi, I’m a researcher in the production team and wanted to thank you all for taking the time to leave a comment.
    I’m pleased that so many of you are enjoying the series so far! We really appreciate all your comments - good and bad.
    It is interesting to hear from those of you who like tony miles (comment #14), vivien (comment #18) and Sylvia (comment #19) have had first-hand experience of hospital food, but perhaps unsurprising that many of your experiences are negative. Of course not every hospital has problems with their catering and I have to agree with del (comment #8) that many are doing a stellar job with limited resources.
    Peter (comment #11), I’m sorry that you felt James didn’t fully explore the reasons behind why the kitchen is struggling. This is just the start of the journey for James and the team at the Royal Orthopaedic - in the first episode James was only just getting to grips with the problems he would be facing. In the forthcoming episodes you’ll see James working closely with the team in Birmingham to try to identify solutions without apportioning blame to any individual.
    Twurly (comment #7) – Yes, James will be visiting more hospitals from across the UK during the series – but you’ll have to keep watching to find out where he ends up!
    James and Galton Blackiston (another chef featured in the programme) are making a few of the recipes available on the BBC Food website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/programmes/b01cbwfm – so gordonastley (comment #17) you can try cooking a few more of James’dishes. Enjoy!”

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