Food educators - a resource in the school kitchen?

Tomater
Photographer
Sigurður Ólafsson/norden.org
Food educator could become a new general concept for cooks in schools. Today being a school cook is not just about making food. You might even say that the food comes second and the education comes first. With education you can get the children's interest and get them to eat everything that is served and even be brave enough to taste something new.

Gösta Rik

I have worked as head chef at Fornuddens School for three years and before that at several restaurants for about 18 years. Together with Marko Mia and Ahlam we are now responsible for food for about 500 children, from 1 to 13 years old.

Since I had not worked with children before, my strategy was that in the kitchen we would be there for the children, and that they would also be welcome in the kitchen when we were working. I set a benchmark that we would be finished with all the preparations by 11am (when the children arrived) and we could then welcome all the children to the dining room so we got to know each other. This attitude has meant that today we are better cooks, but also food educators.

What do I mean by food educator? As adults we have learned about how things taste and we have a record of flavours and knowledge about food that our children have not yet learned. That's where the food educator comes into the picture. These days our kitchen is always open and welcomes all children who want to come before school or during the breaks. Either to get a piece of fruit or to sample today's lunch. In this way we create a safe environment where the children feel that they are welcome.

We have chosen to do all the cooking from scratch the same day and to exclude all processed foods. We make, for example, butter, black pudding, bake bread and make herb salts and all our stocks. When the smell of food spreads out into the playground the children become curious and are tempted in to the kitchen to find out what is being served. It is important to be able to say that the food will be served for lunch and not in three days' time.  The food and smells must make children inquisitive and create expectations for lunch. This is where the combination of the cook and food educator is important. As a food educator, we will be in the restaurant and talk about what we have made and how we made it, as well as why we have made this particular food. Using this method we can offer children different food experiences, such as snails and oxtail but also dishes such as suchi and soba noodles (which are made with green tea). They take the dishes and the food experiences home with them to their families and talk about them. I have a whole folder with mail from parents which bears witness to this and that's when we recognise that what we are doing is right and the work is stimulating.

One of the first steps I took to get the children involved was to take them along to "A Taste of Stockholm" in the summer of 2013. Since my school was too small, I got in touch with the neighbouring municipality Haninge and it ended up with 13 schools from Haninge taking part. For the first time ever, over a five day period, we showed just how good school food can be, if you just get involved. We also invited the parents and over 60% of the children visited the fair with their parents. They ate for free and also got a little VIP service.  Now the school has also agreed that grade 6, which is the final year at Fornuddens School, can spend a day at the Gröna Lund amusement park, as a farewell gift. Everything is free for them during the day but they will talk about the school and how we work with food and education, and hand out some flyers.

After three years, food education has become an established activity at Fornuddens School. Our work is beginning to attract attention and we have received visits from Pajala, Norrköping, Strängnäs, Mariefred, Huddinge etc. I have also had the chance, in different situations, to talk and explain about what we do in both Almedalen and Berns. Every Thursday since June, I have been on the radio P4 Stockholm to talk about what we are cooking at the school and about our work. In addition, our activities have been talked about on television and the concept has been highlighted.  I hope that the concept of food educator can become a general concept that cooks in other schools with be proud to call themselves. Because we must recognise that the job of a school cook today is not just about making food. You might even say that the food comes second and education comes first. With education you can get the children's interest and get them to eat everything that is served and even be brave enough to taste something new. I am very proud to be a food educator.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordic Council of Ministers invited a group of leading players from across the Nordic Region to discuss their visions for the future of Nordic food. This essay formed part of this initiative #Nordicfood2024