Jamie Oliver challenged on School meal government standards debate by Cucina

School caterer Cucina Restaurants has hit back at suggestions by Jamie Oliver that meal standards will slip, if the nutritional guidelines are not mandatory for academies and free schools too and challenged Jamie to come and see higher standards.

The celebrity chef has slammed Education Secretary Michael Gove for “eroding” nutritional standards. He said the Government’s decision not to make nutritional standards mandatory in free schools and academies would be a disaster, echoing the views of LACA (formerly the Local Authority Caterers Association). “It’s very simple. The private companies come in; they’re incentivised by profit,” he argued. “If the standards aren’t there they can sell a whole genre of new stuff, going back to the stuff I was fighting seven years ago.”

Cucina is supportive of a level playing field in which all schools and academies are subject to the same rules, and say it would not be in everyone’s interests to lower standards in order to make a fast profit. However, it disagreed with Jamie Oliver on what would happen if free schools and academies are not subject to the same standards on nutrition.

Steve Quinn, managing director of Cucina Restaurants, catering for 37 schools around the UK, 18 of which are academies, said:
“In my experience, the worse standards are in those schools that have not been market tested since the standards were introduced, not academies and free schools who largely have recently appointed caterers and new schools to work in. Wasteful practices creep in which can be removed by private companies saving schools money and improving food at the same time. The views expressed by Jamie are somewhat surprising and we would urge him to come visit and see food standards in the academies we serve, before making sweeping statements like this.”

Steve Quinn insisted that not only has Cucina embraced the guidelines they have exceeded them in many areas too. He said:
“We don’t and will not put the reputation of our company on the line in order to improve profitability. The nutritional standards are our base guidelines and we exceeded them long before we had to when they came into effect in September 2007.” He added;

“For example, all our food is prepared from scratch in our kitchens daily and we use ‘stealthy eating principles to hide goodness in food kids love to eat. All our meat is red tractor and our fish from sustainable sources.

There will never be a return to the days of Turkey Twizzlers because, thanks to Jamie and hard work by professionals across the whole school catering sector, attitudes have significantly changed among not only school staff and operators, but also students themselves. I see no evidence of standards slipping at any school or academy, we need a level playing field for anyone in school catering. One rule for one type of educational establishment should be one rule for all.”

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