An award-winning chef, hailed as one to watch in the Great British Menu, is taking on a new challenge – cooking incredible food in a school.

Amber Francis has joined Christ’s College Finchley as the Head Chef and Senior Food Educator, to introduce a pioneering way of working that serves up restaurant standard food to hundreds of students every day.

It’s a big change for Amber, who recently won the coveted Young Chef of the Year award, headed up the restaurant Maene, in Shoreditch, and, hailing from Bristol, represented the South West in the cooking competition Great British Menu. 

However, Amber believes in the power of food in changing young lives and is delighted to take on this new role at a London school.  

As well as serving up incredible food, all made from scratch – such as aubergine curry with pilaf rice, fresh fish – prepped and breaded in house, she has plans to start an orchard and grow produce on site.

Amber says: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t say no to. I’m absolutely thrilled and really excited to get stuck in. Teens and kids are the toughest customers – their feedback is more intimidating and honest than most food critics and I can’t wait for the challenge!”

Headteacher at Christ’s College, Mr Olusanya, is delighted about the positive impact the partnership will have.

Mr Olusanya said: “The quality of food that school children in England consume is too high in fat content and too low in vitamins and minerals. To keep them healthy we need to encourage them to consume more fruit and vegetables as well as keeping active. I also think there needs to be a real emphasis on sustainability in eating. Many of our young people have a real drive and consciousness for looking after our planet as well and educating young people will be an important step forward.”

On hand to help Amber make the transition from a top restaurant to a school kitchen are Nicole Pisani, co-founder of the school food charity, Chefs in Schools, and one of the charity’s chef trainers, Andy Pycroft. 

Chefs in Schools reaches tens of thousands of children every school day. They give school kitchen teams the skills and confidence to make nutritious food from scratch because research is clear – improve school food then health, attainment and wellbeing improve too. 

The charity currently supports schools in Cornwall, Devon, London and Yorkshire.

Nicole Pisani, the charity’s co-founder, hit the headlines when she left a role as Head Chef at Ottolenghi’s NOPI to become a school chef – an experience which she will turn into advice for Amber.

Nicole said: “Everything you are used to changes – it is a different kind of pressure and there is a far greater work/life balance but there is also the thrill of using your creativity to fuel the future and spark curiosity about varied diets and exciting food. You must build the confidence of your new team, who will have a wealth of knowledge and recipes they cook at home for family but may not feel confident to cook for pupils. Working in school food is a job for a special chef who relishes a challenge, cares about feeding people great, nurturing food and wants to make a difference to future generations.”

Amber’s passion for cooking started at a young age, and she hopes to inspire that early excitement about food in the young people she will now be cooking for. 

Amber says: “It’s going to be a real challenge to work out what these students want. This is going to be a fun amalgamation of my professional experience and cooking for myself and friends and family.

“I have some ideas but want to work with the current team on site to learn their expertise. So much untapped knowledge for food is there. It’s not just about what I want to cook and that’s really exciting!”

To find out more about Chefs in Schools, visit: www.chefsinschools.org.uk

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