Hackney at heart of scheme launched by chef Nicole Pisani to revolutionise school meals

Nicole Pisani, former chef at NOPI restaurant, in action as executive chef at Gayhurst Community Sch

Nicole Pisani, former chef at NOPI restaurant, in action as executive chef at Gayhurst Community School in Hackney. Photo by Harriet Clare - Credit: Archant

An ambitious project to revolutionise school meals up and down the country is already tasting success in Hackney.

A charity called Chefs in Schools has launched to encourage restaurant-standard cooks to take over the kitchen at primary schools, and Gayhurst Community School is right at the very heart of the project’s inception.

The scheme has been co-founded by Nicole Pisani, who since leaving her role as head chef of Ottolenghi’s Soho restaurant Nopi in 2014 to take up the reins at Gayhurst has transformed the kitchen and retrained its cooks.

They now cook everything from scratch, setting out salads family-style on the tables and baking fresh bread daily.

Nicole has also taken charge of the cooking curriculum, even teaching pupils to butcher whole chickens and cook them over fire pits in the playground.

She said: “The world we live in today is so obsessed with food. We have access to any kind of food we wish during any season and Instagram every meal – but in schools what we serve and teach our children does not mirror that.

“This is why I felt compelled to create a change. It’s more challenging than any restaurant kitchen I’ve worked in and the children are tougher than any restaurant critic I’ve come across.”

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Louise Nichols has overseen the project as executive headteacher of Gayhurst, Mandeville and Kingsmead primary schools, where chefs from restaurants Dabbous and the Riding House Cafe are now plying their trade.

She said: “Chefs in Schools is a fantastic initiative that will support headteachers in moving towards a better and often more affordable offer for lunches in their schools.

“At Gayhurst we have managed to cut the cost of school meals from £1.20 to just 80p per child, while improving the quality and nutritional value of every meal.

“My experience of having great chefs working in my schools is they can completely transform school food culture and inspire children, staff and parents to approach food in a completely different way.”

Rushmore Primary School is also on board, and the trio, made up by Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby, are hoping more schools follow suit.

For more information on how to get involved in the scheme visit chefsinschools.org.uk.

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