The food hall in the Manchester branch of Selfridges is the perfect workplace - for those who know their onions
The Trafford Centre, four miles from the centre of Manchester, opened on 10 September 1998 and has already had 26 million visits, which may explain the decline of nearby city centres. It took 27 months to build and its 280 shops span a distance of three miles. Covered marble and granite boulevards lead you around the centre.

The exterior of the Selfridges there, though, is a shrunken copy of the original in London's Oxford Street. Instead of graceful columns, it has a stick-on, red-brick facade - with a few gold-painted scrolls thrown in for effect - imitates the exterior. It has a very different character to the London store, where the food hall is at street level, within easy reach for those popping in to pick up a few croissants, some pasta or a bite for lunch. Visiting the Trafford Centre requires a little more planning. You have to jump in your car, drive for half an hour out of Manchester, park in one of 10,000 parking spaces and then negotiate the hundreds of other shops in the building before finally reaching the store. The food hall here has gone for all-out Modernism, with stainless steel and glass everywhere you look.

Thai food counter

Jenny Chan, sales associate

Worked here since October 1999

The relentless rise in taste for South-east Asian food means Jenny's counter is a popular stop for shoppers who pick up a take-out order of swordfish curry to eat in front of the TV. On display behind the stainless steel and glass counters is a full range of spicy, brightly coloured Thai food arranged in ceramic bowls and placed on green leaves. The menu includes chicken with cashew nuts, dim sum, sesame toast and pad Thai noodles. Jenny particularly likes the green chicken curry.

Delicatessen

Donna Dolan, sales associate

Worked here since September 1998

The delicatessen presents two drawbacks for Donna. First, she's too small to reach across the counter and serve customers seated at the bar. The second problem is more pleasurable: "I love the food," she says, "but that makes it the worst place for me to work!" The deli serves a huge selection of produce, from German frankfurters to Italian salami, French pates to South African dried beef. Her favourite is the Bayonne ham. But there are also flavours from closer to home, like traditional English meat pies.

Cheese counter

Hazel Friend, sales associate

Worked here since September 1999

Hazel "loves cheese", which, since she's surrounded by 250 varieties, is just as well. "My favourite is our Red Hot Mex," she says. "It's a mature cheddar with chillies and red peppers, and it's lovely on jacket potatoes, toast or pizza." She has a degree in costume design but, after a change of heart, she is now targeting a rather more aromatic career in the food industry. "We do have some smelly cheeses," she says, "but people love them. One is called Stinking Bishop - it certainly lives up to its name."

Luxury counter

John Close, senior sales associate

Worked here since August 1998

"I used to be a supervisor at Asda on the fruit and veg counter," says John, who has since swapped carrots for caviare. The luxury counter sells everything from truffles to smoked wild salmon. "The lobster is my favourite. We get to taste all new products so that we can tell people what they're like." The most expensive item is the beluga caviare, 200g of which costs pounds 370. "We last sold that three days ago," John recalls. "One customer bought two tins for a Christmas party. You tend to remember sales like that." n

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