London’s Raheem Morgan Wins National School Chef of The Year

Lewisham Chef Raheem Morgan has beaten off competition from around the UK to become the 2023 School Chef of The Year (SCOTY).

It’s his fourth time in the competition, with runner-up positions in both 2021 and 2022.

He cooked an Asian crispy fishcake with edamame bean and miso puree, served with a wasabi mayonnaise and crispy garnish. His dessert was a deconstructed lemon cheesecake with apple and basil gel, apple crisp, cherry compote and egg white meringue.

The dishes have been enjoyed by children at Torridon Primary School, Lewisham, where he has been the Unit Manager and Head Chef for two years.

He said: “I try to incorporate spices into the dishes and find that the children are open to trying them – and really enjoy them when they do. They see the teachers eating new flavours in the food I cook for them and do the same – they aren’t scared to try. I’m always trying to sneak veg into the main courses to add to the nutrition, but also to desserts too, like beetroot chocolate brownies!”

Before coming to school catering, completely by accident, Raheem worked with Tom Aikens, and held positions of commis, demi and chef de partie at Hotel Café Royale, Park Plaza Hotel and The Ivy, Sloane Square.

Looking for a new job after a year out, Raheem was sent details from Chartwells and despite not knowing anything about school catering, he applied and by the end of the interview, was convinced that it was the right move – and he hasn’t looked back.

The 29-year-old’s love of food started when he was around nine years old, cooking Jamaican food with his mum, before following it through school in food tech and into hotels.

Raheem won last year’s Grab ‘n’ Go at SCOTY – a challenge to create a healthy on the go snack. He made Loaded Quorn Corn Savoury Waffle – a spicy savoury waffle topped with avocado, tomato and crème fraiche inspired by a traditional Jamaican corn fritter.

He said: “It means the world to win – I’m on cloud 9! I’ve been used to coming second and third but this year it’s me who’s won and I’m so happy. I’ve put so much time and effort into it and so to win is not only great for me but for my brilliant team at school and Chartwells too. Both have supported me with the dish creation, tasting, giving feedback and stepping in while I had time away from school for the competition.

I want to thank my team at school, Chartwells who have been amazing but also LACA – I love everything they stand for and the work they are doing in the school catering sector is amazing and hugely important in changing the quality of school food but also the perception – there’s no chance of lumpy custard anymore!

The competition has helped me to grow so much and it will springboard me as it did last year when I won the Grab ‘n’ Go. After that, we held cookery workshops for the kids and they really enjoyed making the food and trying it all out.”

He plans to spend some of the £1000 winnings on taking his school team out to say thank you for their help.

Second place was Jennifer Brown, from Sarum Academy, Salisbury, Wiltshire, representing the South West region and James Noakes from Maidstone Grammar School, Maidstone, Kent, representing the South East region.

Head judge Louise Wagstaffe from Premier Foods, said: “It’s been a tough year to judge because we’ve seen amazing standards and very high level skills.

“We’ve seen a great use of ingredients on a tight budget and it’s been lovely to see so many different dishes created from the same ingredients from the Bisto brand, with each chef’s own inspiration and influences in their design. Lots of healthy fruit and vegetables have been used – a healthy plate is a part of the judging criteria.

These chefs have a massive influence on the food out children are eating and to see such great tasting food full of nutrition and innovation has been brilliant. There are some fantastic, scalable ideas here which we will be sharing with our schools.”

Sarah Robb, foodservice marketing manager at Premier Foods, added: “It’s so important to support the education catering industry which is what this competition is all about – showcasing the amazing talent in the industry – our chefs have been cooking amazing food. School meals are so important for children to eat and socialise together, but also to try different foods together.

School chefs have so much influence on the children they cook for to show them new food, give them the opportunity to try new flavours and really understand nutrition and healthy eating. The school catering industry has changed so much – the standard at SCOTY has well and truly shown that.”

The SCOTY competition aims to show the high quality of school meals and the contribution they make to the health and wellbeing of children.

The 11 finalists, who had competed at regional heats across the country, were judged on the use of Premier Foods products, working practices in the kitchen, creativity, appearance, taste and flavour. They had just 1h 30 minutes to create four portions of their two-course menu.