Saturday, October 23, 2004

The best way to "beat" McDonalds

The Times reports on the success of a French school in persuading pupils to forgo McDonalds for the cafeteria. With a menu like this, I would too: Vegetable terrine; squid with its ink, fresh pasta with saffron; conger eel with sesame and fennel cream; cheese, fruit (for £1.60).
The secret lies in hiring a talented chef who, in a previous life, worked in fine dining restaurants, apparently. There is also an English version, but I can't find the story.

This is a welcome development, but the school is in effect free-riding, so I doubt whether it is a universal solution. The chef has been trained at restaurants all over France so the school is getting this knowledge for "free" (not including his wage). If this were to become more frequent, restaurants would be less likely to train chefs without some form of contractual arrangement. I also doubt whether there are enough good chefs who would make this career move.
Perhaps school cafeterias can make more effort to serve "proper" food, but this is a function of resources and consumer demand. In the UK, I doubt that many schools have the resources to hire talented chefs, and/or, until there is more demand from school kids for decent food, there is little incentive for them to do so.
The lamentable British food culture is important here - I ate a better meal in the University of Perugia cafeteria than I have in some restaurants in the UK, and I was not surprised. Sad but true.

UPDATE: A new organisation, Cooks in Schools, aims to harnish professional culinary knowledge to help improve school food. The site goes live at the end of the month and the story is here. I wish it well.

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