School Chef of the Year 2015 regional heats begin in January
10/12/2014 - 12:27

The search is now well underway for the LACA School Chef of the Year 2015.  School food providers across Britain are setting their sights on one of their employees becoming the country’s next best education catering chef.  Last year’s title was won by Bedfordshire school chef, Tanya Watkin.  Over 60 registrations were received for this year’s event and the initial 2015 judging stage has now been completed.  The contestants who have successfully qualified from this first stage now go through to the live regional heats to be held around Britain between January – March 2015 (see Notes on Page 3 for locations and dates). The National Final is scheduled for May 2015.

The Competition is the flagship event for school chefs to showcase their professional skills.  It has been organised annually for over two decades by LACA (Lead Association for Catering in Education) and is sponsored by MAGGI® from Nestlé Professional®.   With the significant and historical changes that have been made by the Government this year within school meals in England, namely Universal Infant Free School Meals from September 2014 and new School Food Standard regulations, effective from January 2015, the Competition is more important now than ever before.  Its overall aim is to show to parents the high quality of school meals today and the important contribution they make to not only the health and wellbeing of their children but also their physical and educational attainment.

The line up of dishes featuring on the 2015 contestant’s menus is not only impressive, but also demonstrates the exceptional culinary expertise, confidence and flair of school chefs.  Ingredients, flavours and adventurous themes have been drawn from exotic locations right across the globe.  To give a hint of just some of the creative and imaginative main courses that will challenge the taste buds of the judges at each of the Regional Finals, a small selection of the dishes, chosen at random, are included here:  Loco-Moco Chicken with Ratatouille stack and Cous Cous funnel;  Organic Beef ‘Pepperpot’ with Wholegrain Pumpkin Rice and Steamed Vegetables; Sticky Jerk Salmon with Mango Slaw and Callaloo Rice and Spice Street Fire-cracker Chicken Curry Platter.

Desserts are equally as exciting and compelling such as Coconut Rice Pudding with Mint & Lime Spiced Pineapple; Fruit Sushi with a Honey Dipping Sauce; Fruity Crunch Crumble – a tropical crumble with a coconut sauce and Sweet Yorkshire Pudding stuffed with chopped Cherries served with Berry Coulis and Cherry & Pineapple Fluff. 

The preparation, cooking, creativity and presentation skills of school chefs are really put to the test in the competition.   Each entrant is required to produce, in just one and a half hours; a healthy balanced two-course meal comprising of a main course and dessert that would appeal to eleven year olds in school.  A maximum of £1.60p is allowed for the cost of a single meal (i.e. main course and dessert) for one child.

With the Competition rules requiring recipes to reflect the global influences on school meals and the ethnic and cultural mix of a school’s pupil population, competition sponsor, MAGGI® at Nestlé Professional® has included an extensive selection of its products in the competition ingredients list to help contestants enhance the creativity of their menus. These include MAGGI® Liquid Concentrates, such as MAGGI® Asian Liquid Concentrate and MAGGI® Mushroom Liquid Concentrate, as well as MAGGI® Coconut Milk Powder, MAGGI® Rich & Rustic Tomato Sauce and new for this year, MAGGI® Lemon & Herb Crunchy Bake and MAGGI® Southern Fried Crunchy Bake. Also included are MAGGI® Mash Potato Mix, MAGGI® Béchamel Sauce, Docello® Crème Brûlée Mix and Docello®  Panna Cotta Mix.  The contestants are required to incorporate a minimum of two MAGGI® products in their main course and any Nestlé® product can be used in their dessert.
Chair of the Judging Panel for all of the Regional Finals, as well as the 2015 National Final, will be Justin Clarke, Food Development Chef for MAGGI® at Nestlé Professional®.  On the Judging Panel at each Regional Final will be a professional local chef, an education catering professional (Jacqui Webb, LACA), a leading dietician (Jasmine Challis, British Dietetic Association) and a Year 6 boy and girl from a school near the venue of each Regional Final.  The LACA School Chef of the Year 2014 (Tanya Watkin from Bedfordshire) will be invited to sit as a Judge at the National Final.

Commenting at the start of the LACA 2015 School Chef of the Year competition, Carrieanne Bishop, LACA National Chair says:  “This has been a monumental and historic year for school meals.  The Government has set out a clear vision, which places quality at the heart of successful school meals.  Also, its introduction of Universal Free School Meals is, at last, a real acknowledgement of the pivotal role school meals can play in laying the foundations for children’s future eating habits and their long term health.  The LACA School Chef of the Year competition allows us the opportunity to demonstrate both the professional skills of today’s school chefs and the excellent meals they prepare every single day in schools across the land.   Year after year, they continue to exceed all of our expectations with their culinary expertise.  This should send a clear message to Head Teachers and Governors of all schools, as well as to parents and young people, about how important it is for all schools to provide quality, nutritious meals to students during the school day, every day.  Our front line staff are critical to the dual process of driving forward the latest changes and educating our young people about how food and eating better can help them achieve more academically and physically. I wish all of our2015 contestants the very best of luck”.

Adding her comments, Susan Gregory, Head of Food, Nestle Professional says:  “School meals have always been an emotive subject and more so this year with Universal Infant Free School Meals in England from September 2014.  It is through initiatives like LACA School Chef of the Year sponsored by MAGGI® that we can celebrate and showcase the talent, passion and achievements of the people who feed our nation’s children healthy, nutritious and tasty meals on a limited budget day in, day out.  My best wishes to all this year’s participants”.

The LACA School Chef of the Year 2015 Regional Finals – venues and dates confirmed so far are:
North East & Scotland (Doncaster College, 21 January)
Yorkshire & Humber (Doncaster College, 21 January)
North West (Manchester College, 22 January)
East Midlands (Stoke on Trent College, 28 January)
West Midlands (Stoke on Trent College, 28 January)
Eastern (Stoke on Trent College, 28 January)
London (Lewisham College – tbc, mid-February)
South East (Brooklands College – tbc, mid-February)
South West (City College Plymouth – tbc, early March)
Wales (venue tbc, early March)