An acclaimed chef who’s cooked for the Queen and worked in Michelin starred restaurants is now serving up school food to lucky youngsters at a Totnes primary school.
Chef Marco Pilloni joined The Grove in Totnes in January, making it the first in Devon to adopt a pioneering model aimed at transforming school food.
The primary school has partnered with school food charity, Chefs in Schools, to elevate their lunches. Processed and frozen food have made way for fresh, seasonal dishes cooked from scratch.
Rather than fish fingers arriving frozen and pre-made, the children get fresh fish from Brixham, prepped and breaded in house. Any pasta sauces or curries are made by hand. Bread is baked at the school and there’s even an ever-changing salad bar offering the likes of celeriac remoulade.
Cooking for hungry children is an exciting new challenge for Chef Marco, whose CV includes appearing on TV baking shows. Marco now leads a team of two – sous chef, Roisin and kitchen helper, Anne. Together, the trio are transforming the kitchen.
Marco said: “This is one of the most precious jobs I’ve ever had in my life. You know, feeding all these kids has a different meaning to feeding paying customers. An early education in a better diet is vital. And if I get to inspire these children for the rest of their lives, I can’t ask for more.”
The expansion of Chefs in Schools into the South West comes after working with schools in Yorkshire and London, reaching over 30,000 children every school day, aiming to target areas with high levels of deprivation.
As well as recruiting chefs from restaurants, the charity trains existing teams, ensuring they have the skills and confidence to make food from scratch.
The charity believes that every day in the dining hall is an education and a chance to expose children to a varied and interesting diet, while giving them the skills they need to cook nutritious food. Research is clear, if school meals improve, obesity decreases, while health, attainment and wellbeing improve.
On May 19th, the charity is holding a taster day for headteachers at Leith’s Cookery School. Any schools wishing to attend can send their details to email@example.com
Nerissa Buckley, Senior Chef Trainer at Chefs in Schools, is heading up the expansion. Nerissa said: “When we hire a chef, obviously they know how to cook but they’re not used to cooking for hundreds of hungry children. We prepare them for the brutal honesty of all these little people who literally have no filter. It is a bit of an eye opener. You’ve got 300 critics, every day! But also when you get it right, the feedback is incredible. You can’t beat a child running up and giving you a high five with a smile on their face, excited to see you for lunch. I mean, no critic is going to give you that!”
Headteacher at The Grove, Hilary Priest, is keen to encourage fellow schools to follow suit.
Hilary said: “It’s a lot of hard work and very hands on. You must be prepared to put in the groundwork, and you must get the whole school involved. But it’s marvellous. The way to most people’s hearts is certainly with food. Now we’re educating the children in food, which we weren’t really doing before. Chefs in Schools has helped us to take that brave step. The kids really believe this is the most amazing thing to happen to our school.”
Expansion into the South West has been made possible by funding from The Fishmongers’ Company.
Nerissa said: “We are so grateful to Fishmongers’ Company for providing the funding to allow us to expand into the South West. Like us, they believe food education can be delivered every day in the dining hall and that kids are our future, so let’s feed them like it.’”
Inspired by the impact of Marco’s work, The Grove now wants to improve their kitchen to match the meals being served. They’re fundraising to refurbish their school kitchen. To donate, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/great-grub-at-the-grove?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1
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