The scheme is aiming to train 100 restaurant chefs to work in schools by 2023 and improve food education for young people.
Chefs in Schools is the brainchild of Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby, Nicole Pisani – former head chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi – and Gayhurst Community School head teacher Louise Nichols.
It began in 2014 after Dimbleby tweeted that Gayhurst, his son’s Hackney primary school, was looking for a new head chef, and Pisani decided to take up the post.
She told Radio 4’s Today programme: “After a period of time, working really long hours in restaurants kind of drains the spirit of food. I loved working for Ottolenghi but there comes a point where you want to make a difference and do something that’s more meaningful.”
Pisani cooks on a budget of 75p per child per day, which is cheaper than the £1.20 per child each meal cost when she came on board.
Dimbleby said the skills of professional chefs meant schools could offer “good food at the right price”.
“We try and make food as fun as possible,” said Pisani. “We now serve whole fish in tomato sauce. It’s quite challenging but the kids are on board with it.”
The chef also has a school vegetable garden, teaches children to butcher chickens from scratch and has a fire-pit where they cook food.
Now the team are on a mission to improve school dinners nationwide by replicating the model in other areas.
Two other schools in Hackney have recruited restaurant chefs, and the project is calling on others to get involved.
The scheme has the backing of industry figures including Ottolenghi, Prue Leith and Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers, who has invested £10,000 in the charity.
It comes 13 years after Jamie Oliver began his battle to improve school dinners, which famously led to Turkey Twizzlers being taken off school menus. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2015 Oliver admitted his campaign had not succeeded, and said the focus on health and wellness was the preserve of the "very posh and middle class".
Speaking to Today Dimbleby argued that children's poor nutrition was part of a wider issue.
He said: “You’ve got a massive problem with food-related illness in this country. Part of the solution for that is improving the culture and cooking, that is not [just] a middle class concern.
"I think we’re at the pit of a really problematic societal problem, but we can, by re-skilling people by getting back in touch with food, school by school, turn this around.”
For more information or to get involved visit https://www.chefsinschools.org.uk/