Tracy Healy, 2017 LACA School Chef of the Year Winner

As this year’s winner, Tracy Healy is just starting out on the most exciting journey of her career. Here, she tells us about the whirlwind of opportunities that have already come her way, the confidence she has gained and the rewards of making a difference to how school catering is perceived.


Woman named Tracy

Tracey Healy works at Ravensthorpe Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. She talks to us about coconut rice, creativity, and cooking in a competition setting… 

Why did you enter the competition?
I’ve been a school chef longer than I can remember but this was the first time I’d entered the competition. I was blown away by the passion and enthusiasm of those involved, and decided it was an opportunity to show what I can do. Many people still think schools serve frozen meals and I wanted to show that this simply isn’t the case – school chefs up and down the country are producing nutritious, tasty, fresh food every single day, and on a tight budget.
How was the experience for you?
It was absolutely fantastic. From the outset, all the chefs are made to feel welcome and everyone is in the same boat, so there’s a real feeling of support.
It’s very different to cooking in a school setting. I’m very used to working as part of a team but at both the regional heats and then at the nationals you’re on your own – I enjoyed the challenge though, it was like being on Bake Off!
I also enjoyed the creativity of designing my menu, using fresh produce and working within a set budget. You also have to showcase a genuine understanding of local food, which is great.
What was your winning menu?
My menu was a Lamb & Mint Kofta with Coconut Rice, Minted Salad and Homemade Potato Flat Bread, followed by Rhubarb & Ginger Fool. 
The great thing is – as a result of the competition – my menu is now available throughout the school. The children love trying something new and we’ve had some great feedback.
What does winning mean to you?
The response has been brilliant and has really helped to put school food in the spotlight.
On a school level, our headteacher sent a letter to parents to announce my win and as a result we’ve started to see more take-up of school meals, which is just fantastic. 
On a personal level, the opportunities it has given me have been incredible. I’ve been in the paper, on the local news and I’ve been invited to attend a host of industry awards such as Nestle Professional Toque d’Or and The Craft Guild of Chefs. I’ve even been out to Germany to visit the MKN factory, which makes really impressive professional kitchen equipment, and to visit a local school to see how they do things differently.
I’m very lucky the whole school team has been behind me throughout the competition – it brings you that bit closer and I couldn’t have done it without them.
Why should other school chefs enter the competition?
School chefs work incredibly hard, day in day out, often without much recognition. This competition gives you the chance to be appreciated for all your hard work and shows others what you are capable of. It’s also an opportunity to put your passion into something that’s different from the everyday and take your cooking to the next level.
What tips do you have for chefs entering next year?
I would say to follow the brief and read the guidelines thoroughly so you don’t make mistakes. And don’t cut corners, or the judges will notice!  But the main thing is to relax and enjoy the competition – it is a brilliant experience and an opportunity to meet some amazing chefs, so try to make the most of it.
See the full video of Tracy's insight into the SCOTY competition and why you should enter this year: