Mark Cartwright, executive chef at school caterer Cucina, is also dubbed The Grower. He tells Janie Manzoori-Stamford about his role to educate schoolchildren and drive sales at the same time
Tell me about your role at Cucina I started in Cucina as a chef, but nowadays just under half my working week is taken up travelling around all our school kitchens as The Grower.
How important are your grower activities to the business? We are encouraging the students to eat fresh vegetables and try new things. The best way of doing it is to plant the food and grow it; seeing it happen, doing something with it. It adds extra excitement and another dimension to it. This doesn't just happen on its own, without someone like me driving it.
Does engagement with the children result in a positive impact on sales? Yes, we've proved it does. If you've got happy people interacting with the students on their counters, they are more tempted to try different things, they are more likely to come back and it's where they want to be. Where we have a bit of banter going on, and there's plenty going on with the students, in all cases the sales do improve.
Do you think it's feasible that initiatives like Cucina's can be adopted by all schools? Yes, as long as things are done right. You have to have a team driving it all. If the schools aren't committed to it, then it won't happen.
Does the Government do enough to support the school meal industry? I think the Government comes out with initiatives and ideas, but I don't think it follows them up enough. You have to look at the guides we have at the moment. Are they being kept to, and are they really what we are looking for?
How different is education catering to your past experience in hotels? I don't really view our kitchens as any different to working in a hotel or a restaurant. School students are still customers and you should be doing your absolute best to do things properly. You can't let the fact that you're in a school make you do anything different. You're still a professional chef.