LACA (the Lead Association for Catering in Education) has announced the 10 finalists that will go on to compete for its National School Chef of the Year 2015 award.
The annual event, sponsored by Maggi from Nestlé Professional, aims to showcase the quality of the meals being prepared in schools, highlight the importance of good nutrition among schoolchildren, and show what a high quality meals service in schools might achieve.
All the finalists are winners from the regional heats, staged between January and March. The successful regions include the East Midlands; Eastern; London; North East & Scotland; North West; South East; South West; Wales; West Midlands; and Yorkshire & Humber.
The finalists will now continue on to compete in the final, which will take place on 20 May at the Defence Logistics School near Hampshire.
The judging panel will include Justin Clarke, food development chef for Maggi; education catering professional Jacqui Webb from LACA, dietician Jasmine Challis from the British Dietetic Association, the 2014 LACA School Chef of the Year, Tanya Watkin, a professional chef judge, and an 11 year old boy and girl from a Hampshire school.
To get to this stage of the competition, each contestant was been asked to prepare a healthy, two-course meal in 90 minutes, with a main and dessert that will appeal to schoolchildren, and cost just £1.60 per meal.
Each of the contestants was also required to use two products from a selection of Maggi items in their main course and any Nestlé Professional product in their dessert. Participants were also expected to reflect the ethnic and cultural mix of students in a given UK school.
Carrieanne Bishop, LACA national chair, commented: "LACA School Chef of the Year is a fantastic way of showing why every school should be striving for a high quality school meals service.
This year, the government set out a clear vision which placed quality at the heart of successful school meals. Integral to this, was the introduction of Universal Infant Free School Meals in September 2014. This was, at last, a real acknowledgement of the pivotal role school meals can play in laying the foundations for children's future eating habits and their long term health.
"Our front line catering teams are critical to the process of driving forward these improvements as well as educating young people about how food and eating better can help them achieve more academically and physically. Not only do they prepare tasty and imaginative dishes to tempt discerning taste buds but also nutritious meals that can make a major contribution towards altering eating habits, improving diets and decreasing obesity levels."
Chair of judges Justin Clarke added: "It's been another fantastic year judging the LACA School Chef of the Year Competition with all the contestants creating some brilliant dishes.
"It was great to see so many school chefs taking on the challenge and demonstrating their extremely high standard of skill and creativity - it's why I love being a part of the competition."