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 the more striking of which was the way it encouraged us to focus on some key questions, like ‘what is special or different about British food?’ and ‘what can we teach young people about the food of these islands?’

For this year’s project, we ended up inviting all of our customers to take part in a competition to use British ingredients – preferably from their own part of Britain – to create a new dish of their own, with the winning dish to be announced and cooked for the whole school, and the winner to eat free for a fortnight. We had some amazing entries, and now we’re about to announce the national Cucina winner – judged by our last year’s partner Phil Howard, two Michelin Star chef at The Square in London. The winner and runner-up will each receive a signed copy of his cookbook.

Last year, Phil was given the task of creating ten ‘British Classics’ which we could roll out over British Food Fortnight. We gave him free rein to express his culinary genius, but there was, of course, one important difference – his customers were school students with just two pounds forty in their pockets. It is testament to his brilliance that he created ten fabulous dishes within those seemingly impossible constraints, taking some recognisable classics and sending them in a new direction. This is one thing the experience taught me – that the concept of ‘food traditions’ is not something fixed and unchanging. It is, in fact, in a constant state of growth and development.

The other important aspect of last year’s project was in learning and teaching about the wonderful local produce that is around us – something it is so easy to forget when we see so many ingredients coming to us from around the world. Chefs in two of our restaurants last year worked with their students to produce some really impressive boxes full of the produce of their areas – one in Kent and one in Northamptonshire – which they then presented to HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at the Harvest Service in Birmingham Cathedral. Projects like this make you realise the bounty that is all around you – something it is so easy to be unaware of. And this led us on quite naturally to our ‘You’re The Chef’ project. I look forward to sharing the winning recipes in my next post.

Till then,

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