If you think school meals are all turkey twizzlers followed by sponge pudding and lumpy custard then you have missed a mini-revolution in school catering. It is recognised that the meals served in schools play an important part in helping set the future eating habits of young people and their long-term health. That responsibility presents a challenge to those of us who plan, cook and serve the meals. The annual School Chef of the Year competition provides an opportunity for people who work in school kitchens to demonstrate their skills
This year Sue Knight, who works at St. John’s CE Primary School, in Dukinfield, part of our Tameside council contract, has won a place in the final on March 2. Sue, who won the North West heat, will be cooking-off against seven other chefs from around the UK.
Sue has entered the competition in the past but this is her first time in the final. So what was her recipe for success this time round? Her winning menu, which she will cook again in the final, was chicken, leek and spinach tart, spaghetti vegetables and herby-diced potatoes, with a vinaigrette sauce for the vegetables. The dessert was chocolate and orange panacotta with spun sugar and caramelised orange.
If that menu sounds like one you would find in a good quality restaurant then that demonstrates the skills that are on show in school kitchens up-and-down the country. However, the competition is not just about coming up with a fancy menu. The rules make sure each menu is one that can be served in a school. For a start each portion, main and dessert, cannot cost more than £1.30p, must comply with the School Food Standards and have been produced in 90 minutes.
Sue has worked at St John’s school for six years and now runs the kitchen, preparing 175 meals a day. She says that over the past six years, school meals have changed and children’s palates have become more sophisticated. For instance, lighter curries are now a regular part of the menu. She also highlights how achieving the right mix of fruit, protein and carbs is important. The menu that won her a place in the final includes chicken that provides a healthy portion of protein, while the spaghetti vegetables are a fun way of getting children to eat veg (despite changing tastes this can still be a challenge).
Sue’s success is a reflection of the hard work and dedication that our catering staff across all our schools contracts show every day. It also highlights how our teams are delivering healthy meals, within a tight budget, that children really want to eat.
The competition shows why every school should be striving for a high quality school meals service. The meals served in schools make a major contribution towards altering eating habits, improving diets and tackling obesity levels. A balanced diet and eating well can help children achieve more both academically and physically.
About the School Chef of the Year competition
The Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA) has organised the School Chef of the Year competition for more than two decades. It showcases the professional skills of school chefs. The 2017 national final will be held at Stratford upon Avon College.
Chair of the 2017 national final judging panel is Justin Clarke, food development chef for Maggi (sponsors of the competition) at Nestlé Professional. The judging panel will also include Christopher Basten, past chair, Craft Guild of Chefs, Jacqui Webb, LACA, Beth Hooper, nutrition manager, Nestlé Professional, Katherine Breckon2016 LACA School Chef of the Year, from North Yorkshire, and an 11-year-old boy and girl from a Stratford upon Avon school.
Each contestant has a maximum of £1.30 to spend and just one and a half hours to prepare their dishes. They are required to produce a healthy balanced two-course meal comprising a main course and dessert that would appeal to eleven year olds in school. The meals of all competitors must comply with the School Food Standards and take into account the Eat Well Guide 2016. The Judges also want to see evidence of use of locally sourced ingredients and the use of sustainable products.