Tom Kerridge heads up Chartwells scheme to shine light on free school meal eligibility

Chartwells, part of Compass Group UK & Ireland and the leading education caterer, welcomed renowned chef, Tom Kerridge, to its Torridon Primary School site in Lewisham this week, for a Full Time Meals takeover.

The purpose of the takeover, which was covered on BBC Breakfast, was to raise awareness of the need to increase free school meal eligibility to the 800,000 children living in poverty, whose parents are on Universal Credit but aren’t currently eligible, under the current criteria.

The activity also championed the amazing work of frontline education catering teams, while shining a light on the quality of school food and the fulfilling opportunities that exist within the industry.

As part of his role for the day, Tom treated the children with an assembly to remember, before putting his cookery skills to the test in a cook off against the school’s popular chef, Raheem, in front of a lively and excitable crowd of Year 5 and 6 pupils.

After being cheered on by the energetic supporters, both teams were supported by some little helpers, while the onlooking crowd learned about nutrition in a fun and engaging way.

The panel of judges, including pupils and teachers judged the close contests both in Raheem’s favour, taking a 2-0 victory over Tom. He then took to the canteen to cook lunch with the kitchen team, serving up Mexican style chicken, carrot and courgette spaghetti, and tortilla pizzas, using Full Time Meals recipes.

The food, which was universally provided free of charge, went down a storm, with one child saying, “I was impressed by how flavoursome and colourful the food was, it tasted amazing!”

At the end of the day, the Chartwells catering team met with parents during pick up time, giving out bags of ingredients, supplied by M&S Food, and a Full Time Meals recipe card to replicate the carrot and courgette spaghetti dish at home that evening.

Tom commented, “We’ve had a fantastic day, filled with fun and laughter – that’s what cooking is all about. Food is a powerful tool to bring people and families together, as well as being vitally important to fuelling fun and learning. No punches are pulled when getting feedback from children, so it was great to see the dishes we serve go down a storm.

“Too often school food gets a bad reputation. Raheem and the team at Torridon are unsung heroes that truly care about the children they serve. With the cost-of-living crisis, the school food system is a fantastic way to feed the vulnerable children who are slipping through the cracks.

Data shows that 800,000 children living in poverty do not qualify for free school meals, this needs to be addressed with the extension of free school meals provided to every child who is on Universal Credit.”

Manda George, Head Teacher, Torridon Primary School, said, “We were so excited to have Tom visiting Torridon this week. It was amazing to see him engaging with the children and our fantastic Chartwells kitchen team, led by Raheem.

“It was wonderful to be able to provide every child with a free school meal today. I wish we were able to do so every day.

“Many of our families do not meet the current eligibility criteria and will be facing increasing financial pressure due to the cost of living crisis. Healthy, nutritious food is so important to support children’s learning and I hope that the Full Time Meals campaign will help make a difference and end child food poverty once and for all.”

Raheem Morgan, Chartwells’ Chef at Torridon Primary, added, “I love coming to work and seeing the smiles on pupils faces, but today has been that extra bit special. I’m incredibly proud to work as a school caterer, feeding the future generation, and hopefully inspiring them to enjoy cooking at home.

'I’ve come second three years in a row in the School Chef of the Year competition, so hopefully a few of the pointers I’ve picked up from Tom will help me go one step further this year.”

Charles Brown, Managing Director, Chartwells, concluded, “I’m so proud to work in this amazing sector that makes a fundamental difference by feeding pupils every day.

'As an industry, we must do more to shine a light on the amazing frontline teams that work in education catering, while championing the quality of the service we deliver, despite the many challenges we all face into.”