IF YOU associate Barnardo's with Oliver Twist asking for more gruel, forget it. Dr B's Kitchen is a bistro-style restaurant and coffee bar in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, open to the public but funded by Barnardo's and staffed by young people who need a chance to learn some culinary and social skills. And it has just been awarded a prize by Good Housekeeping magazine for serving the healthiest menu in Britain.

Over a splendid lunch at Mosimann's, Jane Clifton, one of the directors of the project, told the Gastropod how, for the past 10 years, Dr B's has offered two-year catering courses to some 20 students. Sadly, none of these students was to hand: the two who had come to London for the day had decided their time would be more profitably spent in record shops.

The Healthy Menu Awards are sponsored by Evian mineral water in an effort to promote nutritional awareness among caterers. The institutional category was won by the Metropolitan Police Catering Training Centre in Lambeth, south London, where the canteen staff of stations across the capital learn how to feed our boys in blue. Who says a policeman's lot is not a happy one?

NEXT WEDNESDAY sees the return of Food File, the Channel 4 magazine for the nutritionally correct (NC). Each week the presenter, Amanda Ursell, will be joined by the eternally youthful Marie Helvin and the super- fit John Fashanu to issue the Take Five Challenge.

To the sound of Dave Brubeck, half a dozen viewers, who have agreed to keep a record of what they eat, will be attempting to increase their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables to five portions a day.

In the other parts of the first programme, Amanda eats ratatouille in Nice, and Dr Peter Barham, aka 'the scientific cook', asks why we use salt when boiling vegetables.

In the 'Mouthpiece' feature, which allows people with a special interest in food-related issues to sound off, Joanna Blythman of the Independent (above left) finds out how the French are combating incursions of junk food into their culinary heritage.

Being frightfully NC, the Gastropod knows all about beta carotene and dietary fibre - but those less au fait with current nutritional thinking are pointed towards the book of the series (Food File, published by Boxtree, pounds 8.99). It includes a useful A-Z Guide (from antioxidants to zest) to Eating Well.

RACING THROUGH the streets with a tray of drinks can be fun, but the Gastropod is not convinced that serious wine waiting will catch on as a spectator sport. That, however, is the profound wish of the Academy of Food & Wine Service, which for the past 15 years has organised an annual competition to find the country's best wine waiter.

This year, the semi-finals are to be held at the Dorchester Hotel in London on the morning of 19 April. After lunch, three finalists will battle it out before a paying audience, with the Gastropod among the judges and Oz Clarke and Jilly Goolden, the wine world's answer to Morecambe and Wise, acting as master and mistress of ceremonies.

Not only will contestants be required to demonstrate their oenological acumen by suggesting wines to complement food and identifying a range of vintages, they must also perform a series of practical tests. Most spectacular is the stunt in which contestants attempt to pour a magnum of champagne into 16 glasses in one pass, filling each to the same level without any topping up. Thrilling stuff, you will agree.

If you relish the opportunity of spending a Tuesday afternoon watching Britain's top wine waiters showing off their knowledge, flair and personality, you can book your place by telephoning the organiser, Richard Mulcaster, on 071-351 2224.

The pounds 7 ticket also admits you to a post-competition reception. But if you wish to stay on for dinner and the tutored tasting of Ruinart champagnes, hosted by Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby's wine department, that will cost an extra pounds 58.

THE GASTROPOD is always delighted to discover another source of old cookery books, so it was a pleasure to peruse the first list put out by Liz Seeber. After a career in publishing, Ms Seeber is indulging her twin enthusiasms - cookery and book-collecting - by setting herself up as a mail-order cookery book dealer.

Rather than print a conventional catalogue, she is keeping an annotated list of about 450 titles, which is updated daily. She is particularly passionate about collecting mushrooms and baking, but she is willing to search for books on any culinary topic.

For a free copy of Liz Seeber's current list, telephone 081-852 7807 or fax to 081-318 4675.

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