‘CONCRETE CHIPS, soggy semolinas’, so goes the playground chant which neatly sums up the quality of cuisine on offer in school dinners.
But if you believed that pupils were forced to endure a daily diet of turkey twizzlers - it seems you may have been mistaken.
Yorkshire’s dinnerladies proved they have been labouring under a misapprehension yesterday as they went head-to-head in a battle of school cooks.
With menus resembling those of Masterchef contestants, three regional finalists raced against the clock to serve up a delight in the bid to be crowned the Lead Association for Catering in Education’s Yorkshire and Humber School Chef of the Year.
Tasked with producing a healthy, balanced two-course meal comprising of a main course and dessert to appeal to an average 11-year-old on a budget of £1.60 per child, their brief was as tough as the meat which past generations may remember chewing on come 12pm on a school day.
But Ashley Oliver, of Scarborough Primary School, Jenni Melrose, of Sheffield and Doncaster’s Alison Jones all relished the challenge.
Some of the impressive dishes put before the judging panel included loco-moco chicken with ratatouille stack and Yorkshire fish cakes with crushed minted peas and homemade tomato sauce.
The real proof, though was quite literally in the puddings.
Not a lumpy custard was in sight as each chef served up mouth-watering desserts of tea-infused figgy pudding with lemon syllabub and strawberry coulis, cherry-stuffed sweet Yorkshire pudding accompanied by cherry and pineapple fluff and a crunchy chocolate shortbread wheel with fruits and meringue.
“The line up of dishes on this year’s contestants’ menus is not only impressive but also demonstrates the exceptional culinary expertise, confidence and flair of today’s school chefs,” said LACA chairwoman Carrianne Bishop.
“Ingredients, flavours and adventurous themes have been drawn from exotic locations right across the globe.”
After sweating over the hot stoves of Doncaster College kitchens, Ms Oliver, Miss Melrose and Mrs Jones all awaited the verdict.
Judges used their tastebuds to determine the winner, crowning Overdale CP, Scarborough Primary School cook Mrs Oliver - whose only connecttion to famous chef Jamie is a love of cooking - the victor, sealing her place in the national final in May.
The 47-year-old said: “I am absolutely buzzing. There was so much excitement and I was so nervous coming in to it, I’m completely drained but I am over-the-moon.
“The competition was really tough, the calibre of cooking was excellent. I am lucky in my school there is a high uptake of dinners but I think it’s important to raise the profile of what we do in general.
“My menu is the same for the national final so it’ll just be a case of perfecting it until I can do it in my sleep.”
Mrs Oliver was not the only award winner of the day, however. The main of loco-moco chicken served by Mrs Jones, a member of the catering staff at Toll Bar Primary School, Doncaster, impressed so much she was given a high-commended honour.