School strikes veg deal with urban chef

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The Independent Online

Pupils at an inner-city secondary school are poised to strike a deal to sell their home-grown vegetables to a celebrity chef's London restaurant.

The Petchey Academy in Hackney, east London, has struck a deal with "urban chef" Oliver Rowe's Konstam at the Prince Albert restaurant in nearby King's Cross.

Fiona Hattersley-Smith, an assistant principal at the academy, said the partnership would see the pupils' produce served at the eatery.

Konstam at the Prince Albert featured on the BBC2 programme The Urban Chef and has become famous for sourcing its produce within the M25 – leading to dishes such as East Ham mushrooms, Canvey sole, Norbury blue cheese and the slightly medieval-sounding Amersham pigeon breast.

The school also hopes it will be able to send some of its pupils on work experience to the restaurant.

"It's nice to see the kids getting involved in growing things," Rowe said. "It's really important that they have an understanding of what happens from paddock to plate – or food to fork.

"They can learn that carrots aren't just things that you get in a plastic bag in Sainsbury's … and that it can taste better if it's not in a plastic bag.

"I would certainly love to take produce from schools to serve in my restaurant – although I would pay an honest dollar for it. I wouldn't want people to think I was getting it on the cheap."

Rowe's restaurant boasts a north European cuisine. In 2004, he set up a café serving European food in King's Cross. When a former pub came up for sale across the road, he set himself a new challenge by opening a restaurant and sourcing all of his ingredients from local producers. His mission was the centrepiece of the BBC2 programme.

The Petchey Academy, one of the Government's flagship academies which replaced a struggling inner-city school, is the only one in the country to specialise in medical science, health and social science. It has 650 pupils but plans to expand to take in 1,300.

Food and healthy eating are central to its specialist curriculum. The school employs two chefs to provide school lunches, one of whom doubles as a chef at the Belgian Embassy.

The school's organic garden has been operating for about a year. It produces fruit and vegetables including courgettes, potatoes and pumpkins.

Pupils are also encouraged to take up gardening which staff consider an excellent way of encouraging them to take exercise and combat obesity.

In addition, the school has struck a deal with an Austrian monastery, which will supply the academy with herbs for a small medicinal garden that the school has also established. Parents and the community have also been encouraged to use this oasis of green in the centre of Hackney to farm their own mini-allotments.

Rowe said that he hoped other schools would follow its lead.

Pupils have set up a "Green Team" which spends Wednesday afternoons working in the organic garden while the national curriculum is suspended.

"I just thought it sounded really exciting," said Daleel Gajra, 14. "We get a chance to do things we wouldn't normally do inside the curriculum."

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