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Nursery head chef reveals biggest challenge is cooking for children with allergies

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Stuart White is head chef at Busy Bees Edinburgh Park nursery and has more than 14-years’ experience working in catering.

Mr White has worked at Busy Bees Edinburgh Park Nursery for the past two years, supporting childcare practitioners and managers to provide quality childcare.

Mr White sharing some of his cooking tips with some of the nursery children

Earlier this year, he was crowned winner of the ABC (Allergy friendly, Busy Bees friendly, Child-friendly) Chef Competition after competing against chefs from 11 other Busy Bees nurseries to take the crown. Chefs were tasked with creating an allergen-free dish of their choice, seeing chefs create a selection of recipes using flavours from around the globe.

Mr White’s winning dish consisted of an eggless meringue with strawberry mousse and fruit. The dessert is being introduced to Busy Bees nurseries menus across the country.

How did you end up pursuing a career as a chef?

My Grandparents owned a small farm in Ireland, and when I would visit as a boy, my Grandmother would teach me how to cook. My earliest memory of cooking was my Grandmother showing me how to stuff and cook a chicken that she had reared on the farm.

I started working in kitchens at an early age, working in my local café during my last year of high school for work experience. Then I worked in my local Indian restaurant before moving to London to work in hotels.

I became interested in catering in childcare after I did some volunteering and did a demonstration and talked to a class of school children about the importance of healthy eating.

What does your role require you to do?

My catering assistant and I work alongside childcare practitioners and managers to provide the best service possible.

All food is prepared and cooked fresh on the day, so my day starts at 7:30 am for an eight-hour shift. I like to stay busy, so my day tends to flash by pretty quickly. When breakfast has been served, food is already being roasted, boiled or broiled for the lunch service, and during lunch service, I am preparing for tea time. After tea has been prepared, I would do the necessary supply orders, HACCP checks and fill in the Food Safety Management sheets then deep clean the kitchen before I finish for the day.

What qualifications and experience do you have that helps with your current role as head chef at Busy Bees at Edinburgh Park?

I am NVQ qualified for all aspects of the kitchen. I am also qualified with level three food and hygiene and certified in COSHH. Although, I believe the best qualification I've got, is experience. I have worked in a wide range of hotels, restaurants, and cafes.

I have been with Busy Bees for almost three years now. I have been in the hospitality industry for almost twenty years, starting front of house and currently back of house catering.

During my mid-twenties I planned and completed an extensive self-funded travel across Australia, Asia, and Europe, developing self-confidence and gaining in-depth understanding and appreciation of different cultures and lifestyles. I feel that I developed great social skills which I have brought forward into my job today.

Your recent award saw you recognised for your efforts to provide allergy-free food for the children at Busy Bees Edinburgh Park nursery. How did that come about?

Mr White's winning meringue recipe

Allergies are a huge part of my job. Providing tasty and nutritious food for all the children no matter the intolerance is a huge aim for the company and myself. As a parent, who has had a child with an intolerance, I know first-hand the difficulties it entails.

This was my first individual competition and award. In the past, I have been part of kitchen teams that have won awards, and quite a few years ago I was part of a brigade that gained the taste of Scotland award.

Do you think more children have allergies now or do you think that people are more conscious of how different foods affect them?

It's hard to say if allergies and intolerances are more common nowadays or if we are just more aware, but I have seen a positive change in how the catering industry as a whole is dealing with it.

’Clean’, ‘raw’ and plant-based diets have increased in popularity in recent years with more and people opting to exclude certain foods from their regular diet for health reasons. Do you have much experience catering for children who follow ‘clean’ diets?

Over the years I have catered for all types. In my previous job, I had to cater for an entire vegan wedding, which was challenging, to say the least.

I have no doubt to the benefits of clean eating, and our menu regularly has vegetarian days within its three-week cycle, but personally, I believe that eating in moderation with a good range of healthy fresh meals is the key to a balanced diet.

What do you enjoy most about role and what do you find challenging?

I enjoy bringing wholesome nutritious food to the younger generation and although therapeutic and necessary, washing dishes can sometimes take its toll on busy days. However, managing different tasks is just part and parcel of the job.

I'd say allergies are the most challenging part of my job. There are a few children who unfortunately have more than one allergy or intolerance and this sometimes proves challenging but I always do my utmost to find a suitable meal that still represents what is on the menu.

All the children know my name because I am the guy who feeds them of course. It doesn't matter how old they are or what time of the day it is, they see me and get excited because they think I have some yummy food with me at all times.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career as a nursery chef?

My advice on being a chef is to firstly, enjoy cooking and have a passion for creating dishes. My advice for being a chef in childcare is to be passionate about healthy food and to understand that food is of huge importance for the wellbeing of children.

You need to have a good eye for cleanliness. A clean and hygienic kitchen is the most important thing in my opinion. Good time management and organisational skills are also a must.

Search and apply for jobs in the nursery sector here.

click here for more details or to contact Busy Bees at Edinburgh Park


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