Exciting times for the school food industry

We are really delighted to be welcoming BBC professional Masterchef winner Ash Mair to our development team. I first got to know Ash back in 2011 after I’d watched him on TV as a contestant on BBC ‘MasterChef: The Professionals’. As a chef there was something that set him apart from any other competitor I’d ever seen on the show. It was all about his meticulous attention to the details of ingredients, his creativity and skill in flavour combination and the artistry he applied to the presentation of his plates. In the end his dishes just blew the judges away. Shortly after he was crowned champ, we approached him about working with us to develop a signature school food range, and he accepted. And now we’re really happy to announce that he is coming on board again, this time as a regular member of our team.

Ash will be working with our development chefs to keep us exploring what is possible in school food. Just as we did last year when Phil Howard, one of the country’s most esteemed chefs created his own range of British Classics for us. We’ve sometimes been called ‘school food pioneers’ and I like that term, because it kind of sums up what we’re about as a company. Back in 2005 we kept being told that we wouldn’t be able to employ trained chefs in schools and make it work financially. We proved them wrong; look at where we are now. Having chefs in school kitchens is fairly common practice now, even if it is not yet universal, but back then they laughed at us.

This is one of the aspects of my work that I love the most – looking beyond those who like to tell us what is not possible. This is the thinking that led to us owning and operating our own high street restaurant and it’s very much behind the drive to become our own supplier by buying our own farm. We stay fresh by continually challenging conventions and re-inventing what it means to be a school caterer.

This is something we’re now talking to clients about. What do they want, what do they need, or what should they expect from a school caterer? One thing is for sure: it is no longer good enough to just say ‘great food’. The food is certainly at the core of everything, but we have to remember that we are about services, not just products. When we use the term ‘educational partnership’, it has to mean something. And that’s what we’re thinking about right now – how to ‘walk the walk’, not just ‘talk the talk’. At long last, Ofsted are planning to incorporate ‘food service’ into their inspection agenda. What an opportunity this is for schools to show that they, too, are ‘walking the walk’ by integrating food service into the curriculum and raising the profile of food education. These are exciting times for us, and for our industry as a whole.

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