Chefs in Schools, the school food charity, has been crowned this year’s winner of the BBC’s Food and Farming Derek Cooper Achievement Award. 


The award, named after The Food Programme’s first presenter, recognises those who bring about real change in relationships with food. Chosen by a judging panel, it aims to recognise the often unsung heroes who’ve made a real difference to the knowledge and appreciation of good food.


Chefs in Schools was founded in 2018 by the then head chef at NOPI, Nicole Pisani, the author of the National Food Strategy, Henry Dimbleby, and Executive Head Teacher at Hackney’s LEAP Federation, Louise Nichols. The charity trains school kitchen teams to serve up incredible food education and creative school meals made from scratch. 


The charity has developed a tried and tested model which enables schools to source great, fresh produce – from fish caught off our coasts to seasonable local vegetables – which are delivered daily and prepared in house within school budgets. Bread is made from scratch and baked each day. Fresh veg is blitzed into sauces to boost nutrition. Each dish is creative, packed with flavour and could hold its own in any restaurant. 


Crucially, the school chef also takes on the role of Food Educator, sharing their skills, knowledge and passion for food with the children.


The schools the charity supports become part of an alliance where chefs share tips and recipes, and can draw from an extensive library of suppliers, menus and resources. The charity is also creating a procurement network to ensure the best of produce is available to schools at a fair price.


As well as changing the menus and nutritional make-up of the food, every day in the dining hall is transformed into an education and food itself is weaved into the curriculum. Edible gardens are created to teach about produce, koji fermentation stations have been installed to teach about science. 


The charity works in areas with higher levels of deprivation, offering support where it is needed most. The charity also campaigns for eligibility for free school meals to be extended to ensure no child goes hungry in school. 


Above all else, it aims to change perceptions of what is possible in school food, and the vital role that school chefs play in educating children.


At the awards, the BBC Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon said the charity had found a solution to something that felt intractable, and that many in the room were inspired by Chefs in Schools. 


Nicole Pisani, co-founder of Chefs in Schools, said: “We are unbelievably proud to win this award. Not only does it recognise our team, but also the incredible school chefs, head teachers and business managers who are working with us to feed the future. School food gives us a vital opportunity to share with children the fun and joy of a varied and creative diet. The value it offers cannot be underestimated.”  


With the cost of living crisis hitting budgets, the charity is supporting schools to adapt and serve up smart dishes, which are budget friendly but still high in quality.


The schools the charity supports have gone on to set up their own food intervention programmes – cooking bread for parents at cost price, creating food markets, subsidising lunches for those who cannot afford it.


Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive at Chefs in Schools, said: “We are blown away to receive this award. It is so heartening to see the BBC’s Food and Farming Awards recognising the power that school chefs can have to help shape future generations’ connection to food. Addressing our relationship with food is crucial to tackling the twin crises of food-related disease and climate change, and we can only do this when we give children the skills and knowledge to eat, make and enjoy a varied range of delicious, nutritious, planet friendly foods. Next step, getting politicians to realise this too!”


Chefs in Schools was founded in 2018 to improve child health and life outcomes through food in schools. It started in one school – Gayhurst Community School, In Hackney, and now reaches tens of thousands of children each school day. The charity currently has pots of funding available to support schools in the South West, Yorkshire and London. Schools can register their interest over on their website.


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