A KITCHEN assistant is cooking with gas after qualifying in record time and being promoted to school chef.

Donna Cannell flew through her NVQ cookery qualification and was awarded 86 points, when she only needed 52 to pass.

She was then promoted to become one of two chefs in a team of catering staff at Emmanuel College, Gateshead, who feed around 1,400 students and staff in a little over an hour.

Donna, 24, of Dunston, said: “It can get unbearably hot but I love my kitchen. I am just so excited to be here and love coming to work.”

The 24-year-old’s team includes her sister Dawn. Between them they cook all the food from fresh on a huge scale.

A varied menu ranges from spicy curries and stir-frys to English roasts, baked potatoes, salads and sandwiches.

And as a daily endorsement of the catering team’s prowess, virtually everyone in the school opts for school dinners.

“Catering has come such a long way and is now tasty, healthy and appealing,” said Donna. “When I was at school the macaroni cheese was like eating plastic but ours is fantastic and the compliments we receive are unreal.

“I have loved cooking since I was a child and used to spend hours in the kitchen with my dad. But this is catering on a large scale.”

When Donna makes a curry it contains 10kg of chicken and when it is roast dinner day they can expect to get through 35kg of potatoes.

“We also have to take care to get the quantities right so we don’t have much waste,” she said.

Emmanuel College principal Jonathan Winch said: “The logistics of cooking so much food for so many people on a daily basis doesn’t bear thinking about and yet our catering team hit the spot every day and with such incredible enthusiasm and good humour.

“It is important staff and students eat well at lunch time as it energises them and helps them focus in the afternoon so Donna’s work, with the support of her team, is an essential element in the success of the college.”