Staffordshire University chef inspires more children as cooking scheme grows

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For chef John Whittle his work is hectic – a bustling kitchen full of staff and the pressure of hungry customers to feed.

But the 43-year-old has taken on even more work – teaching children how to cook healthy meals.

He had anticipated that one or two schools would join in the Adopt a School programme, but he now has 27 schools already signed up and more on the way.

In one day, he could be visiting two schools, teaching 110 children before going back to the kitchen and carrying on.

The executive chef at Staffordshire University said the scheme was set up 25 years ago by the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, and focuses on teaching children in the UK basic skills in cooking and nutrition.

He does three visits per school to teach children about taste, practical cooking skills and gives them tours of professional kitchens.

There has not been another scheme of this kind in Staffordshire before and John has said he believes it will expand.

A group of Year Three pupils from Willows Primary School, Penkhull, visited John’s kitchen in the Brindley café.

Many said they had enjoyed the visit and learnt about cooking and nutrition.

John said: “Hopefully they’re learning about their tastes and how it will develop as they get older.

“If one of them becomes a chef when they leave school then I’ve achieved what I needed to do with the course.

“That’s great, that’s my job done.”

The Adopt a School programme is aimed at primary schoolchildren, but will incorporate senior schools and colleges in the future.

John said: “The Year Three kids are very excitable about it, Year Fours are there but understand it a little more, Year Fives are really taking it on board.

“It was only ever supposed to be one or two schools.”

He said the sessions are free and the visits by the chefs are voluntary.

John added: “It isn’t so much part of a job it’s a passion to make sure we get this out there and we get this message across to the kids. That’s the main reason I’m doing it.”

“I couldn’t do this type of work if I didn’t love what I did, if I didn’t have the passion there.

“Hopefully we can bring ourselves up ready for City of Culture 2021.

“We could do with that City of Culture, I think –  it would be nice for Stoke to get that.”

John has been invited to a regional dinner as a guest of the academy as an Adopt a School ambassador for his work with the schools.

He also won a merit in a competition at the Great Hospitality show in Birmingham.

He was competing against experienced RAF and central London caterers, and won bronze in the Santa Maria street food chef challenge on his first attempt.

Now John is entering a full team of chefs into the University Caterers Organisation cook and serve competition which will be held at Warwick University on April 10 and 11.

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