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The Caterer

Public sector focus: LACA School Chef of the Year

25 May 2016 by
Public sector focus: LACA School Chef of the Year

Whitby's gothic history was the inspiration behind Kath Breckon's St Hilda's spicy beef pot and Dracula-inspired bat-tastic cheesecake, created with help from the pupils she cooks for at Westcliffe Primary School. Katey Pigden talks to the newly crowned LACA School Chef of the Year about how she created her winning dishes

When her name was called out as LACA School Chef of the Year (SCOTY) 2016, Kath Breckon couldn't believe it. She may have thought her beef "needed a little longer", but the judges clearly disagreed. After making it to the final four times, she finally walked away with the title.

Breckon, the Yorkshire and Humber regional winner, who works at Westcliff Primary School in Whitby for North Yorkshire County Caterers, was voted Britain's top school chef at the national final, held at Stratford-upon-Avon College on 10 March.

Her winning entry was a main course of St Hilda's spicy beef pot, Caedmon cross-bread, Bram Stoker sweetcorn and 199 steps croquettes - a beef chilli with garlic cornbread and sweet potato and butternut squash croquettes. She followed it with Dracula's bat-tastic baked lemon cheesecake - a light cheesecake on an oat cookie base served with a berry compote, which was chosen by the children at her school.

Multi-talented

Breckon has worked at Westcliff Primary School for almost eight years, where she prepares around 140 meals a day for children aged four to 11. She trained for three years at Scarborough Technical College and previously worked in local hotels and restaurants.

Breckon has entered the SCOTY competition five times, and she won for her region in 2010, 2011 and 2014. At the 2010 national final she achieved the Highly Commended Dessert Award and was hoping for at least a similar accolade this year, but never expected to take the overall title.

"I really didn't think I was going to win," she says. "I was hoping I would get a highly commended award and once they had all been announced, I thought I was going to walk away empty handed.

"I was thinking 'what are we going to do?' everyone worked so hard and I didn't want us to leave with nothing. My boss was holding my hand so tight and she leapt on me when my name was called out."

"The competition gets tougher each year," she says. "I'm so happy to be an ambassador for school meals and I can't wait for the year ahead. I'm looking forward to every single second.

"It was well worth entering all those times just to hear my name called. I was so nervous; I was a proper stress-head and it was the worst I have been in any of the finals."

Breckon is a firm believer that cooking is a skill for life, and she often helps organise special themed days at school to encourage the children to get involved. Parents are also welcome to come to the school to sample a meal in the kitchen.

Breckon is on a mission to encourage healthy eating and the menus she prepares are nutritionally balanced and use fresh meat and poultry sourced from the region, along with fruit and vegetables provided by local suppliers.

She has persuaded local chefs to come to the school to teach the children their dishes and has held demonstrations herself to teach children how to cook. Her meals are served in the school's dining area, an American-style diner complete with a jukebox playing classic hits.

History lessons

For the final, the chefs had 90 minutes to produce a healthy, balanced main course and a dessert that would be appealing to 11 year olds, for a maximum spend of £1.60 in total.

Breckon knows the names of all 164 pupils at her school and worked closely with the children for the marketing of her dish. She was inspired by a school project on the local area to base her dishes on iconic parts of Whitby, including the Abbey and 199 steps.

"Whitby Abbey is the first thing you see, no matter which way you come into the town," she says.

The Abbey is thought to be part of the inspiration behind Bram Stoker's Dracula - hence the Bram Stoker sweetcorn in the main dish and Dracula's bat-tastic cheesecake for dessert. The St Hilda's spicy beef pot was influenced by Hilda of Whitby - a Christian saint and the founding abbess of the monastery at Whitby, which was chosen as the venue for the Synod of Whitby.

Breckon says: "The children thoroughly enjoyed practising the dishes with me and, of course, eating the food. When I was coming up with the menu, I tried four different types of cheesecake and every time I made any change to the dishes, I had to work out the alterations to the nutrition and the costings. I was so pleased when I managed to get it to £1.59."

Despite working in an unfamiliar kitchen and experiencing problems with the cooker, Breckon managed to come out on top:

The cookers weren't working properly," she says. "I think the beef needed a little longer, but I had to turn it up to 250°C and the cooker wasn't even registering 200°C. I then panicked that it would burn and decided to blast the beef in a pan to finish it off.

"It was a minor hiccup, but I guess it came out at well in the end. I still can't believe it."

In the spotlight

All 10 finalists appeared on BBC's The One Show the evening before the final, but that was just the start for Breckon.

Within minutes of receiving her award she was whisked off for an interview with ITV - even before she had time to let the school's head teacher know she had won. She managed to have a quick chat with The Caterer before the night's celebrations truly kicked in. By 11am the next morning, she had already taken part in a radio interview before she was interviewed on stage as part of LACA's national seminar.

"I think the whole wide world knows," she jokes. "I'm dreading going into Sainbury's. My phone hasn't stopped buzzing and the news has been all over Twitter and Facebook.

"Winning the competition means the world to me and I can't wait to embrace every opportunity that comes my way."

Judging criteria

  • Flavours, colours and textures
  • Working practices
  • Creativity and presentation
  • Use of Maggi/Nestlé products (the competition sponsors)
  • Use of regional/cultural influences
  • Ability to replicate en masse
  • Compliance with the School Food Plan

The judges

Chair of judges Justin Clarke, development chef, Nestlé Professional

Chef judge Christopher Basten, Craft Guild of Chefs

LACA judge Jacqui Webb, catering manager, Solihull MBC

Dietitian judge Jasmine Challis

SCOTY 2015 Kate Davies

Pupil judges Eve Green and Kyra Barboutis from Willows Primary School, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Both girls had recently had their long hair cut to donate to the Little Princess Trust.

The award winners

School Chef of the Year 2016

Kath Breckon

Main course St Hilda's spicy beef pot, Caedmon cross-bread, Bram Stoker sweetcorn and 199 steps croquettes - a beef chilli with garlic cornbread, sweet potato and butternut squash croquettes.

Dessert Dracula's bat-tastic baked lemon cheesecake - a light, baked lemon cheesecake on an oat cookie base served with berry compote.

Highly Commended Main Course

Annette Graham

Market terrine with sides - meat loaf served with ribboned cucumber, garden mint yogurt, crusted sweet potato, Buntingford honey flowerpot bread and tomato relish.

Highly Commended Dessert

Shereene Weston

Spiced pineapple cake with lime custard - an aromatic caramelised fruit cake served with zesty citrus custard.

Marketing Certificate of Merit

Sharon Hornby

This award acknowledges the creativity of the display tables produced by the finalists and Hornby's display featured photos of school pupils with examples of the healthy eating plate.

Words from the 2015 winnerKate Davies, St Gwladys Primary School in Bargoed (Caerphilly Catering) "What an absolute whirlwind of a year I've had. Since my name was announced as the 2015 School Chef of the Year winner, my life hasn't quite been the same. Upon returning to my school and being greeted with banners, balloons, cards and many cheering children, the realisation that I had achieved what I thought was impossible was probably one of the best feelings I've ever had.

My first event as winner was to attend the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards in London. Being surrounded by most of my food heroes - and even managing to meet them personally - was an experience I will never ever forget. National School Meals Week (NSMW) has probably been the highlight of my year so far, as we took school meals to the top of my country, serving delicious food on top of Snowdon, North Wales.

I also worked in the Houses of Parliament that week; seeing the inner workings of such an historic place was something I felt lucky to be part of. Finishing off NSMW in Cardiff has to be the proudest thing I've done. I was very fortunate to have my parents visit from France and they, my gran and my son were all able to attend the event, which meant the world to me. It really did cap off what was such a special week for me and for school meals.

It was great being part of the judging team for this year's final. I was able to feel the heat of the kitchen without the pressure and I got to see exactly what it takes to be crowned the winner.

Signing off as winner is going to be sad for me as I have made so many friends and experienced things that I never thought I would. This whole experience has completely changed my life in such a positive way and I will never forget my time as School Chef of the Year."

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