Nursery chef Andy Render from Busy Bees nursery in Beverley has been announced as one of just 16 finalists of a national ‘Scrumptious Starters and Delicious Desserts’ competition that is being held across all of its 238 nurseries in the UK.
The competition, which is in its second year, aims to encourage Busy Bees’ talented nursery chefs to create a delicious starter or dessert that will be included in all Busy Bees Winter 2014 menus, using fresh and healthy ingredients.
Last year, the chefs were challenged to create a tasty and healthy soup recipe as a way of incorporating fresh vegetables into the children’s daily diets, whilst also giving them a tasty, warming and hearty meal. The winner, Linda Redman from Sunderland, Doxford Busy Bees nursery, created a Roast Carrot and Cauliflower Soup served with Beetroot Bread which was devoured by over 20,000 children at every Busy Bees nursery throughout the winter last year.
This year, the standard has been set even higher. Busy Bees has just been awarded the prestigious Silver Food For Life Award by the Soil Association for serving fresh and healthy meals, supporting local food producers and serving food that is good for the environment. Research shows that the way food is produced has a significant impact on our environmental footprint. The Silver award also supports sustainable, organic systems which are better for the environment, animal welfare, wildlife and biodiversity.
With this in mind, chefs were given an array of ingredients to use, including mackerel, turkey and zucchini for the starters, and a variety of fruits and coconut for desserts, and then challenged to create a fabulous dish with the help of the nursery children.
Andy beat over fifty other entrants in the region to make it through to the final, which is going to be held at the Dean Clough Cookery School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, on Thursday, 17 July. The finalists will be judged by a panel of experts including Marg Randles, Founder and Managing Director and Jane Sixsmith, Director of Focus on Food.
Focus on Food is a charitable food education programme that believes practical cooking skills are essential for healthy, happy lives. It supports schools and communities to run hands-on cooking sessions through offering training, resources, equipment and inspirational Cooking Bus visits. Their work is especially important in the face of the obesity crisis, growing health inequalities and a gap in skills and knowledge around food, nutrition and cooking. They aim to reach those communities that need us most, and team up with like-minded partners to make a real, long-lasting impact.
Jane Sixsmith, Director of Focus on Food and one of the judges for the final in the North, said: “Working with Busy Bees on their cooking competition is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the amazing work being done by chefs in early years settings. Young children can be engaged from a very early age in an understanding of health and nutrition and this starts with what they are eating in nursery and at home. We have worked with children as young as 4 on practical cooking skills and are currently developing pilots around early years’ sessions as part of our work with the Food for Life Partnership. It is very encouraging that Busy Bees have achieved their silver award for FFLP and have demonstrated their seasonal meals are freshly prepared by their nursery chefs.”
Andy, who has been working as a chef at the nursery for the past six months, said he was excited to have found out he was chosen as a finalist in the competition with his dish of Pickled Mackerel Mousse.
He said: “When I first heard about the competition my manager encouraged me to enter. At first nothing sprang to mind, but then my dish sort of happened by accident. It is a combination of elements from a few favourite dishes and the tricky part was getting a balance between the mackerel and the courgette.
“The dish was very well received and the children liked the combination - and were especially excited by the colour of the onion marmalade and were encouraged to try new things. Now I can’t seem to make enough.
“I’ve only worked at this nursery for six months so I think this competition has made the children more comfortable to speak to me and to try my cooking- even if they are unsure at first. I’m very passionate about cooking fresh, delicious food- if Busy Bees didn’t serve fresh food, I wouldn’t be here.”
Mel Fox, Catering Manager at Busy Bees said: “The chefs at Busy Bees have produced an exceptionally high standard of entries of both starters and desserts by using a selection of basic ingredients and some additional ‘goodie bag’ items. With our chefs’ expertise and creative flair the dishes that I have seen and tasted would sit proudly on any top class menu.
“For the desserts, chefs use fruit, dairy and carbohydrates but limit the amount of sugar and fats in the recipe. Children are given the option to eat food that they wouldn’t otherwise have tried before. We introduced starters to the Busy Bees menu last year as a way of dealing with the children’s expectation that a two course meal should involve a dessert as a ‘sweet treat’ reward for eating up their savoury dish. Switching puddings for a starter throughout the weekly menu also helps widen the range of food on offer to the children, as well as broadening their overall meal time experience.”
Marg Randles, Managing Director of Busy Bees said: “Our nurseries have always recognised the importance of healthy eating, which is reflected in the nutritious, balanced meals our dedicated catering teams provide. We will continue to set the standard for food excellence and promote being healthy to the childcare sector as a whole.”