Primary school pupils In Northumberland are cooking up a storm after being inspired by top North East chef Richie Moore.
The Dales specialist primary school in Blyth has opened its own café and culinary classroom to help teach students how to cook and look after themselves, with children aged between four and 11 getting a helping hand from Blyth-born Richie.
The Group Development Chef with North East-based The Inn Collection Group (ICG) has been feeding the pupils’ hunger to learn about food, cooking, and what life is really like working in a busy catering kitchen.
Richie – who is charged with ensuring the food offering remains consistently high across The ICG’s stable of 10 North pubs with rooms – has been helping the culinary novices who all have additional needs, to prepare menus, cook a meal, and even serve the dishes to their fellow pupils and teachers in the dedicated kitchen and dining space.
The children, wearing aprons and chefs’ toques donated by The ICG, have rustled up everything from spaghetti Bolognese to chicken curry, pizzas and quiche, as they learn to survive and thrive.
Richie – who has cooked for Princes Charles and Edward, The Duke of Edinburgh, and UK acting royalty in his 30-plus year career as a chef – is enjoying going back to school and helping spark the students’ interest in food.
He says: “They are a really great bunch of kids who are eager to learn about where their food comes from, enjoy trying new ingredients, getting stuck in, and making and eating their own meals.
“Learning to cook is an essential life skill – whatever your age, background or mental and physical needs. This is about helping them appreciate and understand the qualities of good food and the importance of a balanced diet, whilst showing them that cooking is fun and sociable.
“There is a real buzz about the place, and I have been very impressed by the students’ commitment, standard of cooking and professionalism. Some could even be the young chefs of the future.”
The children are equally enthusiastic. Leighton, 10, says: “Cooking is really fun. I like it that the school has a café where I can sit with my friends. I like going in there and cooking.”
Classmate Scarlett, 11, adds: “It is nice doing cooking, and I can try new things.” Lennox, nine, says: “I like cooking my own meals in the café. It gives me more choices of what to eat.”
Meanwhile, Connor, 10, loves the design of the café. “It’s amazing!” he says.
Richie is continuing a long association with The Dales School, which has 139 pupils over two sites in Northumberland – Blythdale in Blyth and Ashdale in Ashington.
When he was head chef at The ICG’s The Commissioners Quay Inn in Blyth, he invited the students into his kitchen to experience what life is like working in the hospitality industry.
And when the Dales School recently officially opened the new café and teaching kitchen, it was Richie who was invited to do the honours.
Deputy headteacher, Sally Collins, says the school tries to make the curriculum as active and entertaining as possible, and that the café serves up a host of practical life lessons alongside the food.
“It is teaching the children about maths, English, reading, cooking, healthy eating and teamwork. They have to design and write the menus and budget for each meal, which is where the English, reading and maths comes in, cook as a team, and serve.
“Sitting down together to eat reinforces good manners, the social side of mealtimes and the need to share as they see things being passed around.”
The café runs alongside the school canteen. There are tables which the children have to set with cloths and cutlery, and food is plated like it would be served in a proper restaurant. Richie doesn’t attend every session but tries to get into the school as often as possible.
Sally adds: “It is fantastic to have Richie on board. He is passionate about helping the kids, and it means they have the opportunity to see someone who isn’t a teacher, who has a real-life job, and who cares enough about them to want to be involved and to pass on his skills.
“The children love it. The food they are producing is excellent. My office is nearby, and I can safely say the mouth-watering smells wafting out of the kitchen are every bit as appetising as the food.”