Knives, hot liquids, tempers and deadlines - throw teenagers into the mix and you might expect fireworks.

Yet this recipe has been serving up delicious food at bargain prices for over 25 years, and so far the only things exploding are taste buds.

It's Friday lunchtime and Nightingales Restaurant is filled with hungry guests.

Ostensibly it looks like a typical restaurant, with neatly-set tables dressed in blue and white and a healthy hum of table chatter.

But as I'm led to the kitchen by the restaurant's manager and tutor, Julia Beard, and the doors swing open, I'm met by not only a sudden blast of hot air but a scattering of young faces staring back at me.

Nightingales is the on-site training restaurant for catering students at Carshalton College, and the kitchen is currently the domain of NVQ Level 2 students studying for their Chef's Diploma.

Even before the doors open for the lunchtime crowd, they have been busy setting tables, preparing ingredients and cooking a variety of fresh breads.

Under the watchful eye of two qualified chefs, the class fills every role of a fully-functional kitchen, putting together a comprehensive three-course meal.

And if you're thinking of a starter of toast, followed by beans and a dessert of cereal, you've underestimated the talent here.

These teenagers can cook, managing not only challenging menus, but also displaying the food creatively. What's best is that they seem to be enjoying doing it.

Most dream of becoming top chefs, owning their own restaurants and as their two chef lecturers Barry Scarborough and Tom Hall explain, the practical skills learned in the kitchen could help make such dreams a reality.

Barry Scarborough, whose previous haunts include the Oxo Tower, has been teaching for six months: "After 21 years in the trade I wanted to do something else, and show other people some of the skills needed," he says. "Three days a week the students are in here, and that's combined with classroom-based theory lessons and key skills which top up their English and maths.

"By the end they come out with a portfolio of skills that they've picked up which they can show to potential employers.

"Working in a kitchen, as an employee, it's about money and it can get a bit intense, working with the students is definitely less stressful than any other kitchen I've worked in.

"I mean sometimes they get a bit excited and then we have to step in and get things back together again."

But today things seem to be running smoothly, and despite the appropriate hustle of the kitchen, plates are flying out.

Keeping order is Rachelle Whites, 17, today's head chef.

"It's quite stressful," she says. "But I'm getting used to it. I've got to sort out the orders and make sure everything's getting out OK."

And amidst the flurry of orders she looks like a girl in control. All experience, she hopes, to put towards realising her dream of becoming a hotel manager.

Seated back at the table our cheerful waitress Amy Boyd, 18, takes an order of vegetable samosas served with curried mayonnaise to start and pauipettes of plaice served with a white wine and parsley sauce for main, which, although I'm not quite sure what a pauipette is, I'm confident Amy does.

Within minutes, our table is presented with hors d-oeuvres, we are topped up with water and I'm munching away on lovely fresh bread.

And when you recall that all this comes in at £6.50 we're on to a good thing.

By the time my starter arrives, I'm smiling, it definitely beats my regular lunch of a rushed sandwich or strong coffee. It comes as little surprise when Programme Manager Maggie Smith tells me tells me that a previous NVQ level 3 student called Nikkie Atkins went on to be employed at The Ivy as a trainee chef, or how the kitchen has regularly fed students to Gordon Ramsay's school.

The 50 current catering students are drawn from across London, and students like Tristan White, 17, from Brixton are happy to make the long round-trip everyday to fulfill their dreams: "It's hard work," he admits, "but one day I want to own my own restaurant, and this helps me.

"We get to do a bit of everything, but I like being back of house in the kitchen best."

And his friend Lucy Drawbridge, who is a waitress today, says that the long hours haven't put her off.

"Last night we weren't out till 10.30pm, and then we were in again at 6.30am this morning, but it's preparing us for what it will be like."

But college staff admit running a training kitchen is an expensive business, and many others have closed, yet with an industry-wide skills gap in trained chefs, Carshalton College is helping keep the trade alive.

Some have already secured jobs in kitchens, like David Price, 17, who when not helping at Nightingales can be found at Green Tree Café in Sutton.

"I went to another college before coming here, but it didn't work out," he said.

"I've been here since September and it's really good, and everyone is good at working together and the tutor are very friendly and helpful."

Indeed, so good, that the Nightingale's has some vehement fans.

A group of three diners tell me that they have been coming for over six years, and couldn't fault the meal or service.

"It's a lovely meal, at a very reasonable price, and it's good to support the young people as well," they add. "Our meal today was absolutely delicious."

Nightingales is open for lunch from Tuesday to Friday and dinner, priced £15.50, is on Thursday.

To reserve a table call 020 8544 4433 between 10am-12pm on weekdays or visit

For more information about the College's hospitality and catering courses call 020 8544 4444.