From education to employment


On Tuesday (24) June, The Chefs’​ Forum (@thechefsforum) joined forces with Rational to stage an Education Catering Seminar, live on Zoom. 

This virtual, free-to-attend, event was open to all school catering managers, chefs, kitchen planners and designers and served to address the challenges and opportunities facing this vitally important sector of the catering industry.

Expertly hosted by Neil Rippington, Director of Education at The Chefs Forum’s, Neil chaired panellists and delegates through this ground-breaking event, which explored current topics affecting all elements of the Education Catering Sector, including:

  • Natasha’s Law and allergens
  • Healthy eating and menu planning
  • Design and technology
  • Waste reduction and sustainability
  • Tomorrow’s kitchens and service operations
  • Developing the next generation of chefs across the sector

The Panel was made up of the following industry experts:

  • Phil Rees-Jones – Director of Campus Facilities at Cardiff University and TUCO Ltd., Chair
  • Jacquie Blake – LACA Vice Chair and Commercial Operations Manager, Nottingham City Council
  • Neil Porter – LACA & Operations Manager, BAM Construct UK
  • Brian Turner CBE – Celebrity Chef and Supporter of Chefs Adopt a School
  • Holly Charnock – LACA School Chef of the Year and School Chef for Sefton Council
  • Kevin Tombs – RATIONAL UK Limited

Following the highly successful event, in which the panel provided attendees with a valuable insight of their sector experience and how they can support the sector going forward, each panellist summarised their experience and evaluation of the event.

Jacquie Blake has worked in the education catering sector for many years.  Jacquie is the Vice Chair of LACA, representing over 3,300 organisations providing 3 million lunches in 22,000 schools every day.

Jacquie said,

“Today’s event united all tiers of the education catering sector and established some common ground.  Sustainability, good quality food and seasonality are all elements of professional cookery that permeate through pupils’ needs. We play a very important role as caterers, as sometimes the meal we provide is the only hot meal a pupil receives that day, so it must be prepared with all the above elements in mind.  All of us have a responsibility to support schools with education around food education with cookery clubs, growing clubs and allergen awareness.  In Nottingham Catering, at Nottingham City Council, we often refer to lunch as the ninth lesson of the day!”

LACA School Chef of the Year, Holly Charnock added,

“We find taster pots of new dishes a great way of testing menus on our children.  Some are willing to try new things, others less so.  We try to encourage pupils to try new foods before saying that they don’t like something. If they try a food and say they don’t like it, we will swap their meal without a fuss. Today we put a taster pot of a new sweet potato, chickpea, and spinach curry on every plate for the children to try and it went down an absolute storm!

In my kitchen, I am very lucky to have both a Rational iVario Pro and iCombi Pro.  They were installed two weeks ago and have made a huge difference as all my recipes are now programmed for other team members to recreate at the touch of a button – I wholeheartedly recommend this equipment in busy school kitchens.”

Adam Knights, Marketing Director, Rational UK commented,

“The education catering seminar was a great success, and we are very grateful to the experts who took part. Our goal of working in partnership with The Chefs’ Forum is to provide an ongoing platform for individuals from the education catering sector, who together can make a change for improved education catering standards.  It was great to hear that modern kitchen equipment was cited by 67% of delegates as being one of the top expectations from new staff in a kitchen operation.  Our team of experts are more than happy to audit existing kitchens and advise on the best possible replacement of outdated equipment with state-of-the art sustainable and timesaving alternatives”

Neil Porter, LACA Business Director added,

“I was delighted to be asked to sit on The Chef’s Forum panel to talk about a very topical subject around what steps we can all take to reduce the carbon footprint in our kitchens. The webinar was very topical, had a great line up of panellists and was very well chaired by Neil Rippington. I was able to share details of a publication I was very fortunate to be involved with called ‘Inspirational Design of Kitchen and Dining Spaces’ which references good design features and sustainability factors.”

Hospitality industry hero Chef Brian Turner was a great asset to the panel.  His work with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and the ‘Chefs Adopt a School’ programme sees some of the industries’ leading chefs visiting schools for the benefit of teaching future generations the importance food and eating as a vital component of life.  Brian wants to see development in school menus to make future generations healthier, whilst appreciating the enjoyment of eating as a social experience.

Brian commented,

“Chefs Adopt a School is all about making school children think about food and what they are eating.  I was a dinner monitor at school and used to arrive ten minutes early to learn about the menu that day, so I could tell my table about it.  I think it would be fantastic to assign this role to year 6 pupils, and maybe even ask them to come twenty minutes early to learn about the provenance of locally sourced ingredients and the reasoning behind the recipes that day so they can explain the menu to their peers at the table.

I’m all for the family approach, togetherness, enjoying food and learning at the same time.  It would be great if more chefs could work with school caterers to help them source the best, locally sourced ingredients.”

As caterers in the education sector, we need to produce food in a healthier, more exciting and appealing way, aligned with food service operations that meet the needs and expectations of University and College students and school pupils.

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