Name one person you know who loved their school dinners growing up? But did your school have Heston Blumenthal-inspired dishes on the menu?
We all know that thanks to Jamie Oliver the days of reformed turkey (ish) twirls are long behind us, but one chef is taking humble school grub, and giving it a very unique twist indeed.
Meet Nigel Simmonds, 33. of Buckingham Park, Aylesbury.
Nigel trained as a chef in the Royal Air Force 14 years ago. A process which instilled in him a love of food to last a lifetime.
And after seeing innovative chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Nigel decided to try something different on the menu where he now works at The Royal Grammar in High Wycombe.
Some of the boys who attend the school eat five meals a day on site. And on a budget of £4, the chef set out to make it a culinary treat.
He said: “When I came in I knew I needed to save money to be able to do some of the things I wanted to do.
“I started doing things like making my own bread which saved £200 a week, it tastes better too.
“It means that we are then able to experiment with other things, like chocolate torte, and even fruit ‘caviar’.
“It’s all about being a bit savvy and thinking about what you are going to buy.
“At home this could be the choice between going and buying a pizza for £3, or buying some flour and some yeast for £1 which could make four or five pizzas.”
In his kitchen Nigel uses a variety of scientific techniques to come up with his inspired creations.
These include vacuum packing food items intensify their flavours,and using a sodium alginate and calcium bath to create fruit ‘caviar’ balls.
Other unusual menu items include salt and pepper ice-cream, and popcorn panacotta.
He said: “We also do things like pickling, all of these things just make the food a little bit more interesting for the boys to eat.
“With vacuum packing the flavours end up completely different.
“The process condenses the fibres and enhances the flavours, which I think is amazing.”
Nigel also does themed food events, and has introduced the youngsters to his street-food-style Bhangra Burger, which is a running favourite.
The chef, who is employed to work at the school by contractor Connect Catering, said: “Recently we did a street food promotion, and one of the very popular things at the moment in London is the Bhangra Burger.
“When we were doing the menu we decided to see if we could invent our own and it was a big success.”
And Nigel’s thrifty and innovative cooking has led him to share some of his tips on a blog, which has garnered praise from celebrity chefs including Lorraine Pascal and Masterchef judge Greg Wallace.
Nigel said: “I think having the freedom to do what I like with the menus has helped.
“When I came in the kitchen really wasn’t how I wanted it to be. We were buying in a lot of things.
“I set myself the challenge to do those things myself.
“With the blog I want people to think about what they could do with their money, rather than going out to buy that frozen pizza.”
As well as being unusual, every meal option is nutritionally balanced, with two types of vegetables always being on offer. Meat varieties are also rotated, meaning that the pupils do not eat the same kinds of foods too often.
Nigel, who has worked at the school for two years, said: “It’s all about giving people money-saving ideas, and showing people what they can do on a budget.”
To find out more go to www.theschoolkitchen.blogspot.co.uk