The recipe for success in school kitchens – by the kings of Leon

The restaurateurs chosen by Michael Gove to improve pupils' diets talk to Richard Garner

"We're looking for the English Martha," said John Vincent, one of the duo from the restaurant chain, Leon, who have just been put in charge of a review of England's school meals service. "Or Marthas," he quickly added. Martha Payne is the nine-year-old schoolgirl from Scotland whose daily blog on her school lunches was for a short while banned by her local authority until it realised how popular the blog was and how unpopular the council had become.

Mr Vincent and the co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, Henry Dimbleby – son of David, the renowned BBC broadcaster, have already started work, visiting schools and sampling school food with a view to putting together an action plan to improve the service some time next year.

They have set up their own website – foodinschools@leonrestaurants.co.uk – to take evidence from pupils, caterers, teachers or whoever on the state of the food they receive. "It's an idea," said Mr Vincent. "Wouldn't it be great if we could find the English Martha to tell us all about what works – and what doesn't work – with their school dinners?"

The announcement of the review by Education Secretary Michael Gove set in chain a controversy as TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has been campaigning for better school food for the past seven years, immediately retorted that the last thing the service needed was another review.

Yet despite the chef's criticism, the Leon pair insist that it isn't a case of school-dinner trays at dawn.

"We have talked to Jamie," said Mr Dimbleby. "You would, wouldn't you, want to talk to someone who done so much for the school meals service over the last seven years?

"We all agreed the world doesn't need another review – some statement to say that poor nutitional standards are linked to obesity," Mr Vincent added. "What we want to do is come up with an action plan for spreading what's best to the rest of schools."

The pair founded Leon, which now has 13 outlets in and around London, in 2004. Before that they both worked for the management consultancy Bain and Company. Prior to that, Henry worked as a chef and journalist while John turned round the fortunes of the spirits company, Whyte and Mackay.

Their first forays into the meals service have left them with the impression that about a quarter of the schools serve very good food, about a half are average and the last quarter need something done very soon to improve what they offer. They have been impressed, above all, though, by the school meal staff they have met.

"They're not just dinner ladies," said Mr Dimbleby. "We met a chef who had worked in a pub at one school. He was not just a chef, though, he was th e only male role model for the kids in that school. All the teachers were female."

They have also visited breakfast clubs – mainly in inner city areas serving pupils who otherwise would not have eaten before school.

"In a way they disguise the fact that they feed the kids," he added. "In one, it was a ping pong club and the kids played table tennis as they prepared for school."

They were surprised to get the invitation from Mr Gove to take a look at the school meals service – although Henry Dimbleby said he had met the Education Secretary beforehand when they talked about school dinners.

One matter that they wanted to clear up at the outset was whether they would be free to tackle the controversy over whether the Government's flagship academies and free schools should be allowed to ignore the minimum nutritional standards introduced for all other schools – as is the case at present.

"Absolutely – we wanted to be able to look at that and there was no problem," said Mr Vincent. They were given the all clear to do that.

They are anxious that the results of their deliberations should not gather dust on a shelf somewhere – waiting for the Government to give them the green light or not, thowugh.

That is why they intend to keep in close touch with Mr Gove throughout their work. "If there are things that clearly need to be done, we will try and get them started immediately," said Mr Dimbleby.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Network Manager - Oldham area - Up to £30,000

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

Teacher of special needs required for Burton on Trent

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Exciting Opportunity, Rand...

Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Behaviour Support Worker Th...

Youth Worker / Teaching Assistant - Nottingham

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are looki...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment