Chefs In Schools Update - Meet The Chef

Ahead of an update on the TFP Foundation tomorrow we hear from our charity partner Chefs in Schools as we meet one of their School Chefs: Charlie Gabriel, Head Chef at Stormont House School, a special needs secondary school in Hackney.

Prior to working with Chefs in Schools, Charlie was a chef at River Cottage where he worked his way up the ranks from potwash. After developing his skills in the industry, he realised that he wanted to use his cooking to give back and make an impact on his community. After getting in touch with Chefs in Schools, we helped to place him at Stormont House School where he took up the role of Head Chef.

After completing our training programme, Charlie was ready to transform the food at Stormont House, supporting his team to develop their skills and contribute their own recipes. Charlie has also introduced cooking classes, developing the roof garden where children can help to grow the food used in the kitchen.

"Stormont House is a SENs school and routine is so important to some children here, they like food to be served a certain way and are used to eating certain things and avoiding others. The majority of the students at the school have autism and textures of food and flavours are really important. The food they've had previously has been similar, lots of soft textures, vegetables without any crunch. I'm changing things gradually. Little steps like not boiling green beans for as long so they have some colour and crunch and we're baking the bread. Breakfast has been totally transformed within weeks. It used to be toast and beans, sometimes bacon. Now we have a porridge bar with fruit. Every Monday and Wednesday are veggie days and that's going well.

"I'm introducing new flavours –we've served up Beetroot Brownies. We do a sauce for pizza and pasta that has seven vegetables in it –it's seasonal and always changes but there are herbs, lots of veg all blitzed with a stick blender. They are enjoying that and the children who don't want extra vegetable on top of their pizza, are still getting the goodness. Our tomato sauce is one way we're reducing food waste. Monday, it's for the pasta sauce –say a vegetable lasagne, leftovers are used in the pizza sauce on Wednesday and if there is any going spare I can freeze that to use the following week. We're saving the school money –meals used to cost 1.80 a child, we're aiming for 85 pence but using really good produce.

"I'm working with my old suppliers – I'll call up my fish supplier who works with the day boats and he'll tell me what's in the waters that week. We had whiting, which cost a bit more than the processed breaded fish they used to get before, but as we made the vegetable side dishes from scratch, it cost less. The children loved it, having a fillet of fish really appealed to them and made them more aware of what they are eating.

"People might think working in a school kitchen isn't creative but 100% it is. I get to deal with suppliers and seek out good produce. It's good to have that freedom to write your own menus. The children are really vocal too and will be honest about what they like and don't like - I really enjoy seeing their reactions.

"Working with a team, training them and letting them have an impact and share their ideas is really exciting. The children are learning from us all as well. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they try the food and learning something new – that's a highlight for me.

"We've introduced cooking classes and we're lucky to have a roof garden here, with raised beds and a BBQ. I help the gardener to grow produce that we can use in the kitchen. The children help us turn it from seeds, into something they can eat. I think that's key for cutting down food waste. If they know the effort that's gone into getting something onto a plate, I think they're more likely to eat it and less likely to throw it away."

The TFP Foundation is a charitable embodiment of our purpose and has been set up to use food as a force for good by supporting food, health and education in children and young people. Find out more about the TFP Foundation here.