Our Thoughts

We’re not about words or badges, we’re all about the food

When just about every school caterer seems to be saying the same things about their service and the provenance of their food (we cook our food fresh each day, we use fresh, locally sourced ingredients, we offer vast daily choices…etc), what are you to actually believe? How can you know what their service and their […]

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Up to speed, from day one: the impact of a new Cucina restaurant opening

After a restful Christmas break, two new Cucina restaurant openings meant that our New Year started with a real bang. While this has been a very busy time for our teams, it has also been a truly wonderful and inspiring one. Unlike every other school food company I have worked for over the course of […]

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Reviewing 2015

We’ve now had the first full year of the new School Food Standards which were launched in January 2015. Mandatory in all maintained schools as well as academies and free schools, the standards are aimed at ensuring that food provided in schools is healthy and nutritious. But ironically, the best caterers will always be the […]

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They’re The Chef

It’s been a great school year for Cucina so far and as is often the case, our success has come through the work we do to develop new and exciting food offerings. Our new travelling Street Food stall is a great example of this. In my role as Director of Food, I spend quite a […]

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Streets ahead: My thoughts on my first half term at Cucina

Streets ahead: My thoughts on my first half term at Cucina

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They’re the chef – Teaching students about British food

This year, for the second time, we partnered the Love British Food organisation’s ‘British Food Fortnight’. When we first sat down to plan the 2015 project, we wanted to come up with something that could involve all our customers around the country in a British food activity. Last year’s project brought many benefits, one of […]

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Driven by the vision

Looking back to those early days of our business, starting from absolute scratch, with hardly any money and no contracts, it took real guts and huge belief to set out on that long road of making our school food vision a reality. A burning question at the time was what we were going to call the company.

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Our success – it’s a ‘vision thing’

Our success – it’s a ‘vision thing’

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Exciting times for the school food industry

Cucina are really delighted to be welcoming BBC professional Masterchef winner Ash Mair to our development team.

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Why we’re proud of our Vegetarian Society accreditation

Cucina has just become a member of The Vegetarian Society Food & Drink Guild. 

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Why we’re bringing Street Food into schools

About a month ago, our Directors and Executive Group Chefs joined BBC Masterchef champion Ash Mair to check out the street food scene in London. 

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Catering for change: our plans for a new research project

I agree with a lot of what is currently being said about the growing problem of childhood obesity and its implications for the future health of our nation. But I don’t think we will start to tackle it in any kind of meaningful way without a much clearer and more detailed understanding of the main […]

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Boxing Day Dinner and beyond

This year, after Christmas Dinners, we will also be serving Boxing Day Dinners.

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Going for Gold

More than anything else, the Cucina brand is about refusing to compromise on the quality and range of the food we serve.

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An inspirational start to the school year

I must admit that back in September I was slightly concerned about the timing of our Phil Howard ‘Cucina British Classics’ range for British Food Fortnight, mainly because it was asking so much of teams who already had so much to do. With seven new openings as well as 42 existing contracts, it was shaping […]

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Working with our foodie hero, Phil Howard

Four new contract openings means that this is a very busy time for us right now, with all members of our senior team working hard to ensure the existing kitchen teams bring the school food service up to the Cucina standard quickly and smoothly. It’s hard work, but very rewarding when we see the results […]

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Staying the right size

You may have seen our recent announcements about Cucina’s new contract wins. These bring us up to 47 contracts now – just three short of our targeted ceiling of 50 partner schools. It may seem strange that as a company we don’t want to ‘take over the world’ and become one of the giants of […]

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Making the new food standards work

I applaud the government’s newly announced Revised Standards for Food in Schools. There’s obviously been a lot of work gone into developing and testing these, and by and large, they’re eminently sensible. The standards have been devised to make a difference to the health of future generations and to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity. Can […]

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No choice but to innovate

A great thing about being in the vanguard of the industry is the contribution that we are able to make to our industry. I’m not a fan of innovation just for its own sake, but I do get excited about taking something that exists, asking how we can make things better and then developing new […]

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Good bread makes good sales

Bread, made properly, is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and it’s also one of the simplest to make. Which is why I think it is a shame that so many caterers buy all of their bread in, rather than making it on site themselves. A lot of industrially produced bread contains processing […]

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Why opening a High Street restaurant is not a ‘departure’ for us

We were thrilled to receive a glowing 5-star review for our newly opened High St restaurant ‘The Oxford Kitchen’ in yesterday’s Oxford Times. I’m actually not sure it would have been possible to get a better review. Here are some of the comments: “…adventurous, detailed, interesting, innovative, consistent, mind-blowing, unique and a breath of fresh […]

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Staying fresh and consistent – the key to higher sales

As pioneers of high end school food, perhaps the most crucial aspect of our work is achieving and maintaining consistency right across our brand. When you go into the London Pret a Manger, you would expect a Hoisin Duck Salad Wrap to be exactly the same as the one you ate at their Oxford outlet. […]

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Measuring success

We had some big nights out a few weeks ago, at two industry awards ceremonies – in quick succession. The first was the ‘Foodservice Cateys’ where we were on a shortlist of three for ‘Education Caterer of the Year’. veritrix.com/mobi/ Finalists were selected from the many school catering companies which entered, and while we didn’t […]

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Why free school meals for all UK 5-7 year olds is a bad idea

I never like to pour cold water on positive action in my industry, but I have to say that pledging £600m to give free school meals to all under 8s in the country is a ridiculous idea and a huge waste of money. It seems to be that this proposal is little more than a […]

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What do we make of The School Food Plan?

The long-awaited School Food Plan is out and I think it has lots to commend it. Unfortunately, the recommendation to ban packed lunches has been the only aspect to really receive much media attention. While I have serious reservations about this issue myself, I think there is much to be commended in this plan and […]

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Should schools really consider banning packed lunches?

Should schools really consider banning packed lunches?

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It’s all about 100%

It hasn’t ever happened before In Cucina’s 8 year history, but recently we decided to end one of our school catering contracts. This was no easy decision, believe me, but we are now convinced this was the very best outcome for us and the school in question. So what would lead us to such a […]

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Buying our own farm

I’m excited to say that the dream of buying our own farm may finally become a reality. We’re nowhere near the ‘sign on the dotted line’ stage yet, but we are now looking at a number of suitable sites around the country. This is a huge step, as a few people have reminded me. And […]

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Good school caterers are educators too

Could you ever imagine a situation where a restaurant waiter tells a diner off for not eating up their greens and finishing their meal? Me neither – it’s an absurd idea and it make me wonder why some people stick with this approach to children’s eating. Many of us have bad memories of our own […]

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More than just horse meat

I am really saddened by this latest crisis to hit the catering and hospitality industry. I feel for the many excellent catering operators who do not deal in processed meat or any other processed food. Quite unfairly, all are coming under the same cloud. And yet despite this, I think good will eventually come out […]

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It’s only words…

‘Fine words butter no parsnips’ – a great saying when you think beyond its literal meaning. (But if you’re asking, I prefer my parsnips without butter, thank you very much). The lesson here is that any fine words we use in business should have truth behind them. Words spring easily to mind but these can […]

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Taking control of the quality

I guess you can imagine how excited I was the day that Steve and I visited a farm with serious thoughts about actually buying it for the company! In the end that potential purchase didn’t prove to be a practical option, but the thought has never left me, and I am sure that one day […]

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Chicken and egg: How we get so many kids eating great food

By Cucina’s Director of Food, Sam Davies As Director of Food for a school catering company, I often get asked how we manage to keep producing top restaurant quality food and remain profitable, with prices going up all the time. This is actually a very good question and it deserves a full answer, so here […]

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Black Garlic: All hail the new superfood!

Many in the catering industry – including me – are now starting to understand and exploit the exciting possibilities of the new superfood sensation, black garlic. Black garlic is produced when ordinary white garlic is put through a 2-3 month heat-fermentation process. This endows it with properties strikingly different from the original. direct cash loans […]

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2 Michelin star legend talks about working with us in the future

  What a thrill it was for the Cucina team to welcome food legend Phil Howard into our Teddington School kitchen last week. We’d all watched Phil’s work on BBC’s ‘The Great British Menu’ with great admiration. When you see the country’s most prestigious chefs competing against each other like this, the perfection of their […]

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Rules that are made to be broken

I just can’t get excited about Jamie Oliver’s reaction to LACA’s new survey of parents. So why, you may ask, wouldn’t I want to throw my full weight behind Jamie’s renewed call for universal nutritional standards for all schools? Is this Steve Quinn being difficult just for the sake of it? No, it is not. […]

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Why we must keep offering more and more food choices

Putting on 40-60 fresh food choices cooked from scratch at each of 40 UK sites, each school day means lots of hard work for lots of people. So why do we keep on doing it? Do we really have to make it this hard for ourselves? From a business point of view it’s easy to […]

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Our biggest challenge now – to keep it all going

It’s interesting that that since my recent appearance on Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, I’ve had a few comments and questions about why I talk so much about the quality of school food. Without wanting to sound in any way conceited, we really don’t need to be pushing any more school food frontiers at this stage […]

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McDonalds at the Olympics: a food culture that works

I’m just in from Olympic Park, where an amazing and memorable family day out included lunch at McDonalds. Hypocrisy, after all I’ve written and said about ‘junk’ food? You may say so, but let’s put the nutrition argument aside for a moment and just concentrate on the customer experience. It’s true that the McDonald’s building […]

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We don’t need inquiries or a new ‘School Food Plan’ – we need action and we need it now!

As the owner and operator of 40 UK school restaurants feeding around 50,000 young people each day, I can only sum up my response to Michael Gove’s announced ‘School Food Plan’ in one word – ‘stupid’. Forget Jamie Oliver’s argument about the fudging and the time-wasting for a just a moment. (Although I heartily agree […]

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Professional Masterchef winner Ash Mair, welcome aboard!

It was very exciting to receive Professional Masterchef winner Ash Mair to our Harefield Academy restaurant last Monday. Here is a food talent who completely wowed the TV show judges with his incredible ability to bring ingredients and flavours together into original and exquisite tastes and presentations. You know how sometimes when you watch these […]

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Lets have more ‘Martha’s’ blogs!

The recent media story of young Martha Payne’s blog ( NeverSeconds: http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk ) should be an inspiration to us all. Not only is this young girl making a difference to the lives of many less fortunate than her, she is also demonstrating what can be done by young people to help drive better eating and […]

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Lies, damned lies, and food standards

Why most schools don’t follow the nutritional guidelines You probably heard about the recent School Food Trust report in which 9 out of 10 academies were said to be selling ‘junk’ food to students, in direct contravention of the government’s nutritional guidelines for schools. You may even have been shocked. I actually wasn’t. Why? I’ll […]

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Can fast food ever be good food?

Many people believe that fast food means junk food. I don’t think that has to be true. With the right approach, fast food can be good food too. Fast food, like so many things in business, is about recognising what customers need. At a roadside, you don’t want to be stopping for 2 hours, you […]

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Should we be afraid of fried?

People often ask me if fried food is bad for you. When I answer ‘not necessarily’ I sometimes get quizzical looks. That’s understandable, because we all have this notion of ‘fried’ as a ‘nice but naughty’ food choice. To my ‘not necessarily’ answer I add that it’s a case of all things in moderation. If […]

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Young Chef of the Year – a cause for pride, and for optimism too!

Is healthy family eating a lost cause now? I’ll answer a confident ‘no’, to that, even though family life has changed so much in just a few generations. The good old days of the happy family sat down to dinner with Dad at the head of the table carving up the roast may be gone, […]

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Trimming down to meet demand

We all know how tough things are at the moment. But some retailers are coping surprisingly well by re-focusing their product offerings onto smaller, lower-priced items. I’m convinced that a large part of our ongoing success is because we’ve always kept a sharp focus on affordability and value for our customers. We recently had several […]

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School food standards and academies. It’s a good news story, silly!

There’s quite a bit of strong opinion going around on the subject of Academies and school food standards, some of which I consider to be somewhat ill-informed.

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Improving school meal take-up isn’t about price. It’s about people wanting to eat the food.

In most of the current public discussions about school food, ‘price’ is being cited as the most important factor affecting school meal take-up. According to some of the most popular ideas being put forward at the moment, every student in every school would sign up to school dinners tomorrow if we made them free. Let’s […]

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Ash is King: Masterchef crowns a deserving champ

Ash is King: Masterchef crowns a deserving champ

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Ready or not, here we come!

If you’ve read a few of my posts here, you’ll know something of the core beliefs that drive us at Cucina and set us apart from our competitors.

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And so, this is Christmas…

Well, that’s Christmas dinners done, and I must admit, I’m feeling fairly exhausted now.

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Am I taken aback by these comments? No. I’m gobsmacked!

Am I taken aback by these comments? No. I’m gobsmacked!

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The answer is 12, but what’s the question? Clue: it’s about school Christmas Dinners!

The answer is 12, but what’s the question? Clue: it’s about school Christmas Dinners!

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Top Banana Topped: Check out our updated (and free) iPhone App

I’d love you to check out our free and newly-updated iPhone App (Top Banana Recipe Cards) if you haven’t already seen it you can do so here: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/top-banana-recipe-cards/id390996200?mt=8 The first thing you’ll probably notice is that we’ve designed the App with one main objective in mind – to get kids into the kitchen. Or in […]

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Being there. It’s the key to how fast we can grow.

Being there. It’s the key to how fast we can grow.

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Rewards for Teddington School team; back to the kitchen for me!

Rewards for Teddington School team; back to the kitchen for me!

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School food left behind

School food left behind. What 90% of secondary schools still need to learn.

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A great way to get our daily bread

Not long ago, we signed with an Oxford bakery …

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School lays a yellow-brick road to McDonalds

School lays a yellow-brick road to McDonalds

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‘Locally sourced’ food: not as straightforward as it seems…

I’m sure you’ve heard about the many benefits of ‘locally sourced’ food ingredients: lower food miles, fresher food, better for the environment, supporting local communities

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Fish and Chips forever

Fish and Chips forever… economising without compromising on taste or value

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Take your food advice with a pinch of salt

Food advice from so-called experts can be confusing some times, can’t it?

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What music do you think we should play at our Cucina Royal Wedding parties?

I’m delighted to tell you that on Thursday 28 April, Cucina will be hosting Royal Wedding parties at each of its partner schools. All the planning is now done and we’re ready to roll. Well, apart from the music that is – so give us your ideas! Just click on the link below to suggest […]

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The damage we are doing to the parent’s wine fund

Winning back students to school meals is what we do a lot of, so I must admit I became very concerned when I first got wind of the following email from a parent and school governor at Teddington School in Middlesex. But then I read it all the way through – it’s hilarious! Read and […]

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The food crisis is going to get worse. So what can we do?

I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that the world has a food crisis on its hands. Or that it’s going to get a whole lot worse very quickly unless we see some radical change. The UK is a predominantly service-led economy and has been for too many years. We now import […]

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Healthy family eating? It’s up to the kids, now

“The child is father of the man,” said the famous poet. And I think this quote says it all when it comes to the impact that school food can have – and is starting to have – on modern family life. If you’re about my vintage (give or take!) you’ll remember those classic TV ads […]

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How to meet Jamie Oliver’s healthy school eating challenge

One of the things I appreciated most about ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’ when it first appeared on TV, was the fact that it didn’t patronise or talk down to kids. Instead, it proved something I’ve always known – that if you put the right things in place, young people will be motivated to choose good, healthy […]

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Cucina chefs scooping top awards – that’s proof of our pudding!

When our chefs win international food awards it helps make people aware of the high calibre of food that we are serving to 25,000 young people every single school day. It was such a thrill for us to see Cucina head chef Andy Wilcox take silver at the recent Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg, an […]

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