Last week I was happy to be working in a very busy and professionally run school kitchen. Three regional development chefs were on hand for a couple of days to train and inspire a good number of cooks and catering managers from schools throughout Sussex. It was a real team effort and a genuine pleasure to see so many committed and hardworking individuals pulling together to produce some truly outstanding food.
The development chefs were introducing a new set of dishes, explaining the cooking processes involved and generally providing encouragement and a generous measure of TLC (many kitchen assistants work long hours for few financial rewards and though it sounds a bit corny, do it for the young people who crave nourishing meals).
The kitchen was a happy place to be. Smiles were in abundance and it was good to witness such attentiveness. I’m pretty certain that most newly acquired or recently improved skills have been safely transported back to their home kitchens.
It was also very pleasing to see such an array of fresh and wholesome ingredients. One of the chefs explained how to cook broccoli – “blanche in boiling water then plunge into cold water to retain colour and nutrients” – in my day school veg was little more than tasteless, colourless mush. And when it was paired with dishes such as twice cooked belly of pork, it’s no wonder that so many more students are now opting for the school meal option. At around £2 per day it represents outstanding value.
I got chatting to one of the senior managers from the company that provides these school meals (think of an instrument used to get your bearings…). As I congratulated him on the wonderful spread of food and the professional and dedicated team he oversees, he gave a significant nod to the pioneering work of Jamie Oliver.
Love him or loathe him, it seems that Mr Oliver at least got the ball rolling and gave added impetus to the work that many catering companies had already started. He fired up the debate and made parents, catering managers and even the students themselves realise how important it is to eat good food during the school day.
This chap also gave credit to the army of kitchen assistants who regularly work more than their contracted hours, often at minimum wage rates but always with a cheery disposition. He said if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t do the job. As I got in the car to drive home, the first song on the radio was “Oliver’s Army”. Got me thinking…