In July 2016 we ran a Young Chef of the Year competition for Writtle Infant & Junior School in Essex.
The idea evolved when re-tendering for the catering contract at the school and Gary took our biggest tractor along for the presentation - he even parked it in the playground! This naturally created a lot of interest and became the start of the initiative to engage children with the food that they eat.
Massey Ferguson 8737 - nearly 400hp and costs approx £170,000
The competition was launched during an assembly where we explained the principle was to design a recipe/dish through researching cook books or experimenting at home.
The dishes needed to demonstrate the use of fresh produce, colour, taste, healthy ingredients, cooking instructions and an explanation as to why they thought their dish should win.
The School Council shortlisted the entries to a manageable level and then the Catering Manager picked two children from each year to progress to the next stage. The winners were announced by Gary at the "Oscars" themed winners assembly (with a few minion clips thrown in for good measure!)
The next stage was to come to the farm, collect their ingredients and cook their dishes. They were given a tour of our pack house where all the ingredients for the school dinners are collated ready for delivery.
They visited the butchery to collect their meat and to watch a demonstration on how to bone out a chicken amongst other things. They then met Russell to collect their fruit and vegetables and he held a little surprise quiz to identify different products hidden in covered boxes which they did very well with - it was the adults struggled!
Andy and Pete, our very patient and supportive chefs for the day, escorted the group to the Training Kitchen and discussed Health & Safety and Food Safety with the children and gave them a demonstration on safe knife techniques.
The children were accompanied by an adult at all times, although it is always difficult to watch a young child using a knife, with the correct training and support we are glad to report that they stayed safe - the adults didn't so lesson learnt about listening and paying attention.
Every child had their own station with utensils, scales, extra ingredients and their recipe. They were set time limits and the fun began. Adults were allowed to assist but not take over which proved challenging for some until Gary intervened and reminded them of the rules.
The hardest part of the day was to judge the ultimate winner and the two runners up. We convened to the meeting room to taste the dishes and judge them on taste, presentation, use of ingredients, colour and "the sales pitch" from each child as to why their dish should win.
Andy & Pete said it was the hardest decision they have ever had to make and asked if they could all be winners.
Everyone received a certificate signed by Andy
Freya (left) was our ultimate winner.
Freya's prize was to come back to the farm in the summer and spend a couple of hours riding on our combine harvester
The feedback we received was overwhelming and we have only just recovered from seeing the sad looks and tears from the losers (and their parents). Freya very kindly wrote to us afterwards:-
Being one of the finalists in Writtle Master Chef was soooo cool and I wish I could go back in time and play each moment over and over again because the whole experience was just amazing!
But going on the combine harvester was EPIC and I was on it for ages! My younger brother Jem was allowed on with me too. It was so massive - the wheels were as tall as me (and I’m tall!!) Inside the air-conditioned cabin I could see all the wheat seeds going in to the combine and it was REALLY DUSTY outside whilst it was harvesting.
A massive thanks to all the Ashlyn’s staff who were involved in this. Everyone should go for gold in next year’s competition as this is an ultimate prize J
By Freya Scott-Simons
Writtle Junior School
And so did Nick Taylor the Head Teacher of Writtle Juniors:-
The Young Chef Competition was superb… it engaged the whole school community.It gave children the chance to show skills in areas they never knew they had.The whole Ashlyn’s team were incredibly supportive not only in the setting up of the competition but the running of the actual day and prize giving event.On the day, the children learnt so much from the Ashlyn’s team and were so proud of the results of their hard work. It was great to see children working safely in a kitchen and producing a meal of such a high standard.To be honest, I couldn’t see a way of improving it. Fingers crossed we can do it again :-)NickHeadteacher
Writtle Junior School