The LACA School Chef of the Year competition is set to complete its first judging round this week as registrations from education catering chefs in all 10 regions are in.
LACA, which now stands for Lead Association for Catering in Education, will then announce the qualifying chefs that will go through to the regional finals in early 2014, for a chance to win the National Final in May. Nearly 20 years' old, the championships aim to show parents and schools just how important the catering at schools is, and how it can help children's health.
Chefs in the running have one and half hours to produce a main course and dessert that 11-year-olds would happily eat, but that is also healthy and nutritionally balanced, for the maximum cost of £1.60 per two-course serving. The only other stipulation is that chefs must incorporate at least two products from sponsor Maggi at Nestlé Professional, which are intended to help chefs tailor food to the ethnic and cultural mix of many schools.
Products on offer include coconut milk powder, "Devil's Jam", vegetarian gravy, potato flakes, béchamel sauce, a crème brûlée mix and a panna cotta mix.
The judging panel is made up of Maggi at Nestlé Professional food development chef Justin Clarke; a professional local chef; education catering professional Jacqui Webb, from LACA; dietician Jasmine Challis from the British Dietetic Association; and a Year 6 boy and girl from a local school. Corinne Du Preez, the LACA School Chef of the Year 2013, will join the panel as a judge at the final.
LACA chair Anne Bull said: "LACA School Chef of the Year continues to represent a positive way of communicating the benefits of supporting a high quality school meals service in order to help safeguard the health of the next generation.
"Parents and the wider community should be reassured that our talented front line staff in schools not only prepare tasty, innovative and creative dishes to tempt the taste buds of discerning children and young people but also nutritious school meals that can make a major contribution towards altering eating habits, improving diets and decreasing obesity level."
Head of food at Nestlé Professional Susan Gregory wished all the chefs good luck, and added: "We simply never hear enough about the positive work carried out by so many school chefs who actually produce excellent results."
LACA regions include London, Yorkshire & Humber, the South West, Eastern, East Midlands and West Midlands. The North East and Scotland are judged together, but Wales and the North West have their own regions, as does the South East.
Serving an estimated 3m lunches everyday around England, Wales and Scotland, LACA incorporates 135 local authorities; 750 catering managers of schools and colleges; and 350 associate members who supply food, drink, equipment and services to the education catering sector.