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Managed by Tony Mulgrew, who was recently awarded the Chef Manager of the Year accolade at the 2018 Foodservice Catey Awards, Ravenscliffe High School’s catering department continues to lead the way in providing a healthy variety of foods to improve both the education and lifestyle of students.
Approaching nearly 40 years in the Hospitality & Catering industry, Chef Manager Tony continues to be a passionate advocate for sustainable eating through ethically sourced, local produce - both across the UK and internationally.
We sat down with him to discuss how he developed a passion for the combining his career as a Chef with education, his achievements as a Chef over the years, and what he predicts will be the next big thing for Chef Managers in terms of using nutrition to promote a better quality of education and lifestyle for children across the globe.
When asked who initially inspired him to pursue a career as a Chef, Tony replies, “My mum was my role model in the kitchen, and the first person to teach me that it’s possible to eat healthily whilst on a budget. Despite supporting us all on a widow’s pension, she went above and beyond to ensure we always had delectable dishes on the table. This laid the foundations for my career later on in life. ”
Throughout the late 70s and early 80s, Tony could be found working within local butcheries and cafes in Dromore, Northern Ireland and later in Huddersfield, Yorkshire outside of school hours. “This further developed my interest in becoming a Chef, along with my passion for sourcing local produce,” he says.
After working as a Commis Chef for a few years at the Trust House Fortie, Tony signed up to join the British Army in 1984, where he began formal training as a Senior Chef. Here, he continued to develop his career over the course of 15 years, followed by a brief stint as a restaurant Chef. “Although the fast-paced restaurant scene certainly kept me on my toes and made for an exciting career, I soon realised that my skills, expertise as a chef and passion for sustainable eating would be better suited to the educational sector,” he says.
“I will never forget the first school meal I sampled in my career as a Chef…I was horrified,” Tony recalls. “With TV dinners widely sourced in schools throughout the country, I decided I would make it my life’s mission as a Chef to address the epidemic of unhealthy eating and promote nutrition as the solution. In doing so, I aimed to improve both the education and quality of life afforded to children across the UK.”
Tony was appointed by Todmorden High School as Catering Manager in 2001 where he wasted no time introducing measures to promote locally sourced meals across the establishment. He was a key driving force behind the Incredible Edible movement implemented across the school and throughout the local community. “I felt I had found my calling. As such, I truly enjoyed educating families and children on how to adopt sustainable eating habits and farm-to-table principles, through both growing and sourcing local produce,” he says.
In a move away from outsourced to in-house catering with its school meals provision, Ravenscliffe High School appointed Tony as a Chef Manager in 2012 to revamp and revolutionise school meals across the establishment. “After meeting the Headmaster, I knew immediately that we were on the same page in terms of enriching education through nutrition. This in turn inspired me to pursue the Chef Manager role, as I knew I would have full autonomy to bring new and innovative ideas to the table.”
Following his appointment as a Chef Manager, Tony was instrumental in establishing the school’s first community café – with many of the food items planted by students and grown within the school grounds. Overall, he continues to raise catering standards at Ravenscliffe and promote healthy eating throughout the globe, as is evident in him having received the Education Business Award 2009, the BBC Cook of the Year award in 2014, and most recently the Chef Manager of the Year award at the 2018 Cateys Foodservice Awards.
When asked about his hopes for the future, Tony replies, “We’re seeing a widespread uptake in restaurants providing vegetarian and vegan options throughout the globe, and I hope to make this more mainstream in schools across the country and beyond"
In addition to rolling out Meat Free Mondays across Ravenscliffe high school, Tony and his team also ensure that the community cafe provides an array of vegetarian and vegan options for students. "A plant-based diet is truly the most sustainable and ethical way of eating, and I truly believe that children should at the very least be given an option to both develop a taste for, and access the wide variety of plant-based meals available. Particularly because many of these ingredients can be grown on school grounds!”
Overall, Tony, in his capacity as Chef Manager remains committed to providing healthy, tasty, sustainable and ethical meals for the Ravenscliffe Community and beyond. “As part of this pledge, we only use local, sustainable food producers. We feel that using local suppliers ensures the long term sustainability of food production, and also has a positive financial impact on the local economy,” he concludes.
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