Hackney School of Food launched to provide a tasty education
- Credit: Jim Stephenson
The Hackney School of Food is a cookery school established by LEAP Federation of Schools (Gayhurst Community School, Mandeville Primary and Kingsmead Primary) in partnership with the charity Chefs in Schools. Together, they have made use of an uncared for part of their site into a beautiful, organic green leafy oasis where they teach children how to grow and harvest their food. Rashmi Narayan speaks to chefs Nicole Pisani and Thomas Walker behind the food education initiative.
Having worked at Ottolenghi's restaurant NOPI, Nicole Pisani had the dream of revolutionising school lunches.
“Chefs in Schools is mainly about teaching how children can learn to cook food with love from scratch," Nicole said on co-founding the project.
"Children’s menu choices can be limited and we aim to challenge this and help children understand food better.
"This is why the Hackney School of Food was built, so children can harvest the food themselves and eat their produce.
"It is to help children eat more vegetables and if they are engaging in the process, like when they harvest or cook the dish themselves, we have noticed that children eat what they grow with a better vested interest."
Chefs in Schools work with a number of institutions, transforming the food on offer to 20,000 pupils each day. There is a strong focus on sustainability by growing fruit and vegetables that are seasonal and which are locally available. Working with the LEAP Federation at the Hackney School of Food, they want to take this vision further.
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“The dining hall is a classroom, so why not treat it as an educational session in feeding 600 children in 50 minutes," said Nicole.
"School chefs should feel proud in the difference they make in children’s lives. It is rewarding to know many children have a strong understanding with the very basic ingredients of food.
"The food they eat during lunch influences how much they can digest and concentrate after."
She added: "The next challenge that we are finding ourselves in is expanding and continuing the wave of being nationwide than London focused."
Chefs in Schools started with just three educational institutions and are now working with 51 schools.
After their recent Give a Sausage campaign, they hope to have more schools of food dotted around the UK.
Chefs in Schools are also developing a toolkit with the architects who designed the School of Food - Surman Weston. This has been funded by The William Sutton Prize and the toolkit will help other schools replicate the Hackney School of Food.
Being at the forefront of children’s food education and research, chef Thomas Walker, who formerly worked for Jamie Oliver, now leads Hackney School of Food as their Head Food Educator and has noticed the transformation in how children now view food.
“Children learn so much when cooking is part of their curriculum and this revolves around their nutrition," he said.
"Apart from our fruit and vegetable patch, we have chickens, wild flowers and also aim to have our own greenhouse later this year. The children have named the chickens and have a rota in taking care of them and gathering their eggs, which they love to do!"
He added that youngsters aged five to 18 are taught under the programme but adults are also welcomed.
For Christmas, the children have started creating edible gifts such as bags of pumpkin seeds where they have grown the pumpkins during the autumnal months and have dried the seeds to be used for the festive period.
Thomas said: "We hope to have lessons over the Christmas holidays where we will work in teams and cook safely on our height-adjustable units. As the Hackney School of Food is such a versatile space, we are open to private and family events and corporate team building exercises that include cooking classes."
The Christmas holiday lessons are funded by Hackney Borough Council, from the Government's Holiday Activities & Food initiative. As a community organisation, The Hackney School of Food is open to collaboration from everyone who has an interest in their project of improving the food, food education and food culture in schools.
For more details on how to get involved, please visit hackneyschooloffood.com and chefsinschools.org.uk.