I recently had the unenviable task of organising the London and the South-East Regional final of the School Cook of the Year competition.
This is an annual event which encourages school caterers to show off their culinary skills to the full. It is organised by the Local Authority Caterers Association.
Every local authority holds its own individual "cook off", with its winner going forward to one of nine regional finals. The regional winners then go forward to the grand final, which this year is being held at Westminster Kingsway University on 31 October.
As well as being the organiser, I was also one of the judges, something I had not done before. I have often watched Loyd Grossman cogitating over the textures and tastes of various dishes, but did not realise how difficult it was going to be to say this was better than that.
Contestants were judged on a number of factors, but cost was a major restriction. A limit of 75p was all that was allowed for a two-course meal - a real challenge.
We held our event at the Rush Green Campus of Barking College and scheduled the competition to take place on enrolment day, so we could have free run of the kitchens.
To ensure that the judges tasted the food at its very best, contestants were started at 10-minute intervals. They had to prepare two portions of the main course and dessert for tasting and the same for presenting.
The standard of the food and the presentation was absolutely superb. Many people whose last memories of school meals date from 10 or 20 years ago would not realise the way this sector of our industry has so dramatically changed and improved.
At the end of the event, one of the college lecturers, who was also helping with the judging, invited all the catering students who were enrolling at the college that day to view the final dishes presented.
The competition winner was Pauline Gatti of Tower Hamlets.
Her offering was Persian lamb meatballs, served with a bulgar wheat rice and a Middle Eastern salad, followed by a mango smoothie.
But in reality, with the kind of skill and commitment we saw in our final, school children all over the country are the real winners.
Richard Ware is catering and premises services manager at the London Borough of Havering
Next diary from Richard Ware: 29 November