Page 3 Profile: Nicole Pisani, chef


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Going off-menu?

Ms Pisani, a top chef has quit her job at an exclusive London restaurant to serve diners who may be a little less discerning, but no less deserved... school children. As the head chef of Nopi, a famed Soho eatery, she created sumptuous Middle Eastern and Asian-inspired dishes to satiate the appetites of the capital’s most culinary-savvy diners. But Ms Pisani has swapped her high-spec kitchen for the school canteen where she has been tasked with feeding 500 hungry children, on a budget of 92 pence per head.

Why the dramatic career change?

“I had an amazing time at Nopi. It was a massive learning experience for me. But after two and a half years I was tired,” Ms Pisani told The Guardian. “I wanted a break. It’s hard being on your feet for 16 hours a day.”

Is anyone going to tell her how demanding one child can be, let alone 500?

Ms Pisani, who grew up in Malta, won’t be deterred – she said she was looking forward to beginning the “rewarding” new job.

How did she get the position?

A friend spotted a tweet by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the fast-food restaurant chain Leon, in which he mentioned that the chef at his sons’ school, Gayhurst Community School, in Hackney, north-east London, had left and a replacement was needed. Ms Pisani applied, cooked a trial meal for the entire school and the job was offered to her on a, ahem, plate.

Are there any changes afoot?

“I want to try and stick to the same menu they have, but cook it better,” she said. “In school kitchens the mentality is they are cooks, not chefs. But it would be really nice to have people who love cooking in schools.”

What’s on the menu?

Before Ms Pisani took over on Monday, typical lunch options at the inner-city school included wholegrain pasta with Bolognese, pizza with salad and cauliflower cheese. This week pupils can expect to sit down to sweet potato and spinach dhal muffin cake with celeriac and parsnip, smashed beetroot and labneh - a type of Greek yoghurt. Ms Pisani also plans to introduce clams and seaweed to the revamped menu.