Crowned winner of SCOTY 2016, sponsored by MAGGI®, Yorkshire-based Kath reveals the secret behind her competition success, tells us what makes her job so special, and shares her predictions for what trends will translate into school dinners...
Who/what inspired you to enter the competition?
My assistant manager (and previous SCOTY winner in 2008) suggested it to me back in 2010. I have competed in the competition almost every year since then and have been honored to reach the final four times. I’ve certainly learnt a lot over the years. This time, we really went through everything with a fine tooth comb and the hard work paid off – I still can’t quite believe I’ve won!
Can you share with us a bit about your background?
After training at Scarborough College for three years, I went on to work in restaurants and hotels in France, London and Scotland. I moved to school cooking when I had children and have never looked back.
What do you think it was that made you win the competition?
I spent a lot of time researching and planning the entry, and incorporated many different aspects from our local history. For example, I tried to replicate, as closely as possible, how the monks used to cook; we went foraging and used beef bred in Yorkshire. Our school prides itself on using fresh local produce, it’s very important to us.
What is the best piece of cooking advice you’ve ever been given?
To be organised! It’s invaluable in my day job and really paid off during the competition. You can practice and practice at home, but when the competition starts and the nerves kick in, preparation means everything.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing school chefs like yourself today?
Our main goal is to encourage children to not be afraid to try new foods. However, there are so many other elements to consider too, such as the School Food Plan and budgets; it’s a challenge and that’s why I enjoy it!
Making food fun is key and we create lots of themed days to coincide with what the children are learning. Some stand-out events have been an American dinner with a duke-box, war-time food and a street party.
Cooking with children is a great way to improve appetites. The smells and textures are really exciting and if they’ve helped prepare the food, they’re more likely to want to eat it!
What’s the best thing about your job?
The children – no day is the same and nothing beats seeing them enjoy your food. I also love cooking with them, some children who struggle in the classroom can really excel in the kitchen, they learn so much about maths and science without even realising it!
What are your food predictions for school cooking – what do you think kids will want?
Children’s tastes are gradually becoming more adventurous as school food is a lot more interesting and creative. Street food is an increasingly popular option and kids love stir-fries and noodles, for example.
What’s your signature dish?
I’ll cook anything!
When you get the chance, where do you enjoy eating out?
My favourite ingredient is fish and we have an abundance here in Whitby. I can even see the sea from my kitchen!
What would be your dream meal?
Monkfish skewers from the Magpie, a seafront café in in Whitby.
What’s the one piece of kitchen equipment you couldn’t live without?