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Prisoners and Polenta - Serving Time, Serving You

19/10/2015 15:01 BST | Updated 16/10/2016 10:12 BST

If someone told the Ministry of Justice ten years ago that risotto could bring down reoffending rates, I imagine people might have laughed.

But The Clink Restaurant in Cardiff has service with a difference and that's not just a horrible marketing cliché. It really does. Your rabbit and chorizo with porcini mushrooms has been made by a convicted criminal. The restaurant is staffed by prisoners serving time, while serving you. The low-risk prisoners on day release from jail - are doing much more than porridge.

So I was game for covering a story about a Michelin star-style restaurant, voted top ten in the UK. As a roving reporter, there is not a petrol station sandwich in the land I haven't tried (if you're asking a BLT is best for safety). But The Clink is more Masterchef than motorway services.

It's run by The Clink Charity, headed by Chief Executive Chris Moore. So does Chris have an underworld back-story, leaving behind a world of drug dealing and crime like an episode of The Wire? No Chris had worked in catering, running restaurants for The Hilton Hotel group and Harrods. Zero connections in the criminal world then.

Instead across the country from HMP Brixton to HMP Cardiff, Chris and The Clink have opened gourmet restaurants in the grounds of prisons. It's strictly not a gimmick. Although let's be honest, it's a better idea than most pop-up restaurants. His mission is to bring down reoffending rates. With 45.2% of adults committing a crime within one year of being released from prison, it seems to be working. Ex-prisoners working for The Clink have largely not gone on to reoffend.

So was pan-frying venison the answer? I really needed to ask the inmates working forty hour weeks in The Clink kitchen. But I found myself awkwardly asking that question in the style of Hugh Grant at a party. Except I was talking to prisoners in a kitchen.

I met Rob, a man who had never cooked before - who was days away from being released. Rob had worked his way up to chef. I don't know how successful he was as a criminal - I was too awkward to ask. But I do know Rob makes the best pastry tart I've ever tasted.

"It's made me realise I can make an honest living in life", he told me. "I don't have to go down the criminal route".

Rob had found his calling and it wasn't crime. His favourite dish now? "Risotto". It seems all the roads lead back to risotto.

I went away from HMP Cardiff feeling like something special was cooking. Who would have thought that prisoners and polenta would go so well together?

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