Last week, we launched our School Meals Matter campaign in association with the Local Authority Caterers Association.
Its aims are to call on the new government to commit to continued funding of school meals; and to galvanise hospitality operators to help ensure a pipeline of future customers and recruits by alerting school children to the pleasures of nutritious food and cooking.
Our timing couldn't have been better. Last Tuesday, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited St George's Primary School in London's Mayfair to help the Academy of Culinary Arts celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Chefs Adopt a School scheme.
Chefs Adopt a School is a shining example of what's possible when hospitality professionals give up their spare time to spread the food gospel.
The scheme was founded in 1990 to encourage school leavers to consider a career in the hospitality industry. But its focus quickly turned to primary school children when organisers realised how poor the level of children's food and cookery knowledge was in secondary schools and decided a grass-roots approach was needed.
With Heston Blumenthal, Brian Turner, Albert Roux, Raymond Blanc, Harry Murray, Richard Shepherd watching on, the Prince - who is patron of the Academy - and the Duchess rolled dough, sniffed jam jars and bit on lemons as they took part in two Adopt a School classes.
Afterwards, the Prince called Chefs Adopt a School "a brilliant idea".
"Food is related to our entire cultural heritage", he added, "and we must find a way of reconnecting children to our food, culture and seasons".
I have first-hand experience of the excellent work the programme does to help kids engage with food. Last year I spent a morning in a school in North London watching Thames Valley University senior lecturer and former executive chef of the Intercontinental Park Lane, Michael Coaker deliver a lesson to a class of teenagers with learning difficulties.
Michael began by inviting the class to sniff coriander, basil and parsley and describe what they smelt. He then had them forking the flesh from a pomegranate and tasting it. They were immediately spellbound - but the best was still to come.
Next, Michael demonstrated how to make tomato, mozzarella and pesto puff pastry tarts and cheese straws. And then it was time for the kids to have a go. In a fog of flour, they rolled pastry, cut shapes and sliced cheese and tomatoes.
If the challenge of twisting raw pastry into spirals had them in hysterics, the moment when their tarts came out of the oven and were plated up had them beaming with pride.
The children enjoyed the tactile pleasure of food preparation, and the pride that came from tasting a dish they had made themselves. Without realising it was happening, they had begun to make friends with food.
Michael was not paid to deliver the lesson. Like the many other chefs who support the scheme, he gives up his spare time because he believes in the power of food and cooking to transform lives.
Chefs Adopt a School is just one of many programmes working to inspire new generations of food lovers and chefs across the country.
Since 2003, some 3,000 teenagers have received grounding in food hygiene, health and nutrition, thanks to Compass UK's laudable Junior Chefs' Academy programme, which attracts and develops young talent into the sector by running Saturday cookery schools throughout the UK.
And Springboard's excellent Futurechef competition this year celebrates a decade of introducing 12 to 16-year-olds to cooking and thereby changing their perceptions of the hospitality industry.
In the coming months, we'll be celebrating these and other initiatives. By doing so, we hope to inspire others to help children embrace a healthy lifestyle.
By Mark Lewis
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