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The Prison Restaurant: More than just bread, water and porridge

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Al Crisci Al Crisci | 10:03 UK time, Monday, 25 April 2011

In 2009 I opened a new gourmet restaurant called The Clink, serving food of the highest quality. Big deal you might say. After all, I am a chef. However the location might surprise some people. It is slap-bang in the middle of a Category B prison and all the chefs and waiters are serving prisoners. Tune into BBC One tomorrow night to see the documentary The Prison Restaurant, and see for yourself what we do.

A table in The Clink restaurant set with plastic cutlery


Some might say it is a gimmick. But I say we rehabilitate prisoners by teaching them to cook, to wait tables and behave in the correct way. Hopefully we are saving the taxpayer money and helping to build a better society for all of us. At my prison, HMP High Down in Surrey, prison food is wholesome, low in salt, fat and preservatives, fits within the five-a-day fruit and vegetable guidelines, and only costs £2.10 per prisoner, per day.

It’s been proven that a healthy diet improves behaviour. Just ask Oxford professor Bernard Gesch – and check out The Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour. It makes sense. Why serve rubbish for £2.10 when you can, with a little more effort, and within the same budget, cook food which helps improve behaviour?

Let me explain how I see it. There’s no point in locking up prisoners without providing work and training, so that when they are released they have no job, house or qualifications. They may well just commit another crime and come back to prison. It’s a vicious circle. Most prisons provide education and work to help reintegrate those they release back into society.

But we provide something different to a lot of jails. We train prisoners to a high level by signing them up to cooking and food service diplomas. We also engage with employers who are willing to offer them a job when they are released. If they need accommodation, then we have contacts who can help. All this in a restaurant paid for by private donations and run by a charity - at no cost to the taxpayer.

The Clink also employs two ex-offenders full-time, as well as the numerous prisoners we have working in the kitchen and front-of-house. Simon, Ray, Winston, Trevor, Thomas, Patrick, Kane, Dean and Francis are the names of some of the men that we helped rehabilitate and that are still behaving.
I just wish that the many people who criticise prisoners who are trying to improve their lives would imagine a member of their own family being in the same situation. Many have screwed up, ended up in prison and don’t want to keep coming back, but have no qualifications or job prospects.

The most fulfilling part of my career as a chef has not been the West End restaurants and hotels I worked in, but passing on the things I learned in the prison kitchens. Every day I am lucky enough to share my skill and experience with people who want to improve their lives, who want to support their families and who want to feel proud of themselves for once, instead of ashamed of their actions.

Chef Al Crisci from The Clink


I hope that The Prison Restaurant has shown the positive side of rehabilitation through The Clink, as well as capture the monotony of life in prison. It’s much tougher than the tabloids make it sound.

Is it better to spend £40,000 a year on keeping a prisoner behind bars or to rehabilitate them and help them get a job at the end of their sentence, so that they can start repaying their debt to society? What do you think?

Al Crisci appears in BBC One documentary The Prison Restaurant.


  • Comment number 1.

    I will be tuning in, I've just spent ages looking through The Clink website too. The menus look very impressive and the recipe for sour dough hot cross buns very interesting. Amazing how long that starter has been going!

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just watched it - brilliant programme!

  • Comment number 4.

    What a great programme! it was wonderful to see someone trying hard to help people in a gritty way without sentimentality. Some responded poorly but others seem to benefit greatly. It was uplifting to see what can be done - even in the most difficult circumstances. It would be great to see a follow-up programme.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm sorry I missed this programme - do you know if it will be repeated? I agree that rehabilitation should be a major part of most prison sentences and teaching people skills to try and keep them away from a life of crime in the future seems like a really good idea.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm sorry I missed it. But I do remember BBC scorning the idea of a show called 'Cooking in Prison'. It was pitched by a very desperate Alan Partridge! Here's the clip on YouTube (see 1:50). Maybe some of his other brainwaves will turn up in the schedules too. Monkey Tennis anyone? LOL!

  • Comment number 7.

    I missed the programme last night but will definitely be catching it on i-player. I visited The Clink with my son around a year ago as was invited by a friend who was an inmate at the time and I had the most amazing experience. The food was delicious and the bakewell tart was the best I have ever tasted! The service was impressive and the whole set-up was totally professional. I do believe rehabilitation is the way forward and this is such a great mechnism for this to happen. I wish this venture all the success.

  • Comment number 8.

    You can see the programme again here on BBC iPlayer.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry to have missed the programme. I fully support the idea of (trying) rehabilitating prisoners, giving them a chance to build a new life and be useful members of the community. I think this is a wonderful opportunity. Keep up the good works.

  • Comment number 10.

    Marvelous to see the selection of prison kitchen staff to join The Clink in the programme Prison Restaurant which gives inmates a wonderful opportunity to learn from Al Crisci who delights in sharing his skill and experience with people who want to improve their lives.

  • Comment number 11.

    Excellent programme - respect to Al's commitment to high quality food and the rehabilitation of those keen to move on.

  • Comment number 12.

    Al Crisci is the most inspiring man - he should get a knighthood - the prisoners are just so lucky to have him as a mentor.

  • Comment number 13.

    Brilliant! I nearly didn’t watch, especially when my son cynically said “Oh, Jamie hasn’t exhausted every opportunity then”, but when I realised it wasn’t another tired re run of Jamie or Master Chef, I thought I’d listen to it while doing some work. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much work done.
    It was gripping, charming, funny and really drew you in. Who didn’t wish that lad would make the most of his chance & leave the Fanta alone. The personality and humour of the manager and the lads carries the programme and that gorgeous Italian guest Chef – something for the ladies.
    Only down side – I bet there’s a lengthy waiting list for the Klink & gorgeous Italian chefs restaurant!

  • Comment number 14.

    Was this programme inspired by Alan Partridge's off the cuff TV ideas by any chance?


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