In the Spotlight: The LACA School Chef of the Year
The LACA School Chef of the Year 2018 competition celebrates and highlights the professional standards of school chefs. Michael Goulston is the first man to scoop the national title in the 20 years the competition has been running…
School meals play a pivotal role in laying the foundation for children’s future eating habits. The LACA School Chef of the Year competition organised by LACA (Lead Association for CAtering in Education) and sponsored by MAGGI Professional from Nestlé Professional aims to inspire schools to deliver nutritious, imaginative and tasty dishes that can establish a healthier lifestyle and reduce obesity in young people as well as help them to achieve more, both academically and physically.
“LACA School Chef of the Year is an excellent way of showing why all schools nationwide should be striving for a high quality school meals service,” says Tim Blowers, LACA National Chair. “It’s a snapshot of the passion and expertise of today’s school chefs and of the commitment and professionalism they put into producing high quality meals every single day in schools across
It was Michael Goulston’s outstanding performance and professional vision that makes his catering at Peartree Spring Primary School in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, A-plus. Michael, a mobile cook manager for Hertfordshire Catering Ltd (HCL), beat off competition from nine other finalists at the National Final on 8 March at Stratford upon Avon College wowing the panel of eight judges with a two-course meal – inspired by his own children.
“I asked my two boys, aged seven and nine, what they’d like to eat and they said chicken,” explained Michael. “I cook a lot of chicken at home, so the key then was to see how I could make a basic ingredient stand out.”
His menu was cooked chicken stuffed with herb mousseline, baked potato gnocchi in a tomato sauce, broccoli and roasted carrots en papillote followed by a coconut cheesecake, pineapple and strawberry compote and tuile biscuit. Michael’s motive behind his main dish was to introduce some bold flavours into children’s food to establish varying spice levels to begin to develop young palates.
“I not only want children to try new flavours but show them that food can be exciting, as well as colourful and pretty, to hopefully encourage them to try it and not be put off,” added Michael.
Michael has worked in the catering industry for 29 years; his previous roles being sous chef/head chef at GlaxoSmithKline and sous chef at St Columbus College. But it was his own children’s influence that made him decide to switch to school catering two years ago.
“I love cooking at home and since my children have come along I have loved them helping with the preparation, and also taken on board their feedback,” says Michael. “Listening to what they think of the meals made me want to be in a position where I can offer other children the same nutritional, well balanced, but tasty meals and show them food can be fun.”
And from the menu at Peartree Spring Primary School, it’s clear Michael and his team of six achieve this as they prepare 300-500 meals a day for nursery and primary school age pupils.
“Our menu is all about home-cooked food. We reconstruct historic, popular recipes by adding more vegetables – which we have to hide – and reduce the sugar content, without compromising on quality,” explains Michael.
The school serves up a hot option every day; roast dinner, curry, pasta, stews and pies which are suitable for all diets and allergens. They also serve sandwiches for those preferring a cold snack, an unlimited salad bar and a deli bar that offers grab-and-go food such as wraps, bagels and pasta pots.
“The key is to keep children inspired and interested in food,” says Michael. “We use grated beetroot as the natural sweetener in chocolate cake and at first the children didn’t believe it was in there and were dubious, but now it’s one of our most popular desserts, so the children are eating something that’s tasty and good for them.”
The 10 finalists of the competition came from across the UK and their skills are tested with a maximum spend of £1.30 for the cost of a single meal and 90 minutes to prepare their dishes. They are required to produce a healthy balanced main course and dessert that would appeal to 11-year-olds in school, comply with the School Food Standards and take into account the Eat Well Guide 2016. Judges also wanted to see evidence of use of locally sourced ingredients and the use of sustainable products.
Second place went to Justyna Rutkowska from Birchwood CE Primary School, Warrington for her chicken in a rich tomato and tarragon sauce, tatties and neeps nest and creamed carrots and a chocolate and coconut brownie with crunchy Cheerio topping and raspberry coulis.
Third place went to Abdul Mahdoul from Walbottle Campus, Newcastle upon Tyne for his slow braised beef in a rich tomato and thyme sauce, with cheesy Gruyere potato, wilted spinach and carrots served with crusty herb fougasse and a creamy panna cotta with mango, pineapple and berries served with a coconut crunch shortbread biscuit.
“I’m so proud to have won the national title,” adds Michael. “With the standard and skill level amongst this year’s finalists being so high, I felt it was an achievement in itself just getting through to the national final, let alone being able to compete with such a talented group of people.”