Leading the School Food Revolution
by BBC School Chef of the Year, Tony Mulgrew
In early April, YIS and Dragon Dining hosted BBC School Chef of the Year, Tony Mulgrew, for a week full of sharing best practices in the school food industry. Tony is the Head of Catering at Ravenscliffe High School and Sports College in West Yorkshire, England. He was selected as BBC's 2014 School Chef of the Year because of his revolutionary approach to providing wholesome, sustainable school food involving the contribution of students, staff and the surrounding school community. Dragon Dining, whom we all know and love, possesses the same ethos as Tony. Together, they inspired each other and the YIS community with their student, parent and staff workshops, teaching us about nutritious food, where to get it and how to cook it. Tony reflects on the inspiration his time at YIS provided, below.
One cold and rainy January morning at my home in Yorkshire, I received a tweet from a certain Dragon Dining in Yokohama, Japan. It was asking if I would be interested in visiting their school cafeteria. Well, I really didn't need much convincing. This was a fantastic opportunity for a passionate school chef to visit a country with such an amazing food culture.
Ten weeks later, I was getting on a plane about to travel halfway around the world, nervous and wondering what I was about to embark upon. This fear soon changed to excitement upon walking into the YIS kitchen with the smells of fresh baked breads and pastries in the air and the team getting ready for another busy lunch. A kitchen staff member was taking the time to put char-grilled markings on flour tortillas before filling them with fresh vegetables, hummus, meats and homemade dressings; another was picking through herbs brought in from the school garden; a delivery of vibrant organic produce, a rainbow of natural vegetables, fresh and full of vitality, was waiting to be prepared. I quickly realized that this was no ordinary school kitchen and it was going to be an interesting place to be for the next week.
After introductions and orientation to the kitchen, the first thing that caught my eye was the quality and shear volume of fresh produce arriving, all to be cooked and served the same day. The passionate team of professionals from all parts of the world worked as a well oiled machine. The kitchen was an impressive coalition of nationalities, languages and skills.
The week flew by as I went from addressing the Parent Teacher Student Association, to speaking to large groups of students, to visiting the amazing Chiku Center food bank and the inspiring Alishan organic supplier. I spoke with over 300 members of the YIS community over five days and was impressed with the unprecedented level of interest in the food served in a school cafeteria. My daily schedule was full but I did get to see some cherry blossoms in the evening and eat out at some fantastic restaurants with the staff of Dragon Dining.
This short visit was all about inspiring and raising the awareness of the link between the school kitchen and the education of students within the school community. Showing the link between using quality, local producers and the impact that our choices can have on the local and global economy and the sustainability of the environment is a vital lesson. This awareness is about how our bodies are affected - the stomach through the love of good food, the brain as it inquires about where this food comes from and the heart as it cares about the impact our choices have on ourselves and others.
I want to extend my gratitude to the Dragon Dining team for inviting me, and I must give a special thank you to the PTSA, YIS Head of School Mr. Coutts and all the YIS faculty and students for giving me such a warm welcome and a memorable trip. I loved every minute of it!