Camelia Paton-Devine and her enthusiastic team of 10 swept the board with their Allotment Cottage Pie, which boasts an impressive and tasty mix of vegetables grown at school, including potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, aubergine, runner beans and small plum tomatoes. “We’re very passionate about growing food – we grow from seed to plate – anything from kohlrabi to watermelon,” she enthuses.
Inspired by traditional home-cooked meals, and particularly one-pot dishes, the children in Camelia’s School Nutrition Action Group, or SNAG, chose the ingredients themselves and oversaw the whole process from harvesting and prepping the produce, writing and tweaking the recipe, and cooking it up for regular tasting panels. “They voted cottage pie as a dinner-time favourite and adapted it to include the vegetables – this was entirely the creative inspiration of the children,” she says.
A number of different pies were tried before the final recipe was settled on. “We used Quorn mince, supplemented by beans and pulses, for a vegetarian option, but also made one using lean beef mince,” says Camelia, explaining that the recipe needed to be as healthy and sustainable as possible.
With an established kitchen within the school, Camelia had plenty of harvest from the previous year’s growth to help experiment with the recipe. “I think the judges probably liked the fact that we’d shown how we blanched and stored vegetables from the harvest glut last year,” she says.
Each member of the kitchen team had a different role to play, with older ones taking on some of the vegetable preparation and younger ones picking and snipping herbs to add to the mix. All honed their kitchen prep skills and worked well as a team.
“Creating the recipe was great fun and they all worked independently as well as collaborating on things such as developing the creamy top,” explains Camelia.
The school celebrated their £1,000 win with a visit from WWF, sponsors Alpro, and actor/presenter Cel Spellman – a keen vegetable grower. As well as a tour of the allotment, the school treated their guests by cooking up their allotment pie for a tasting session. “It’s wonderful that they’ve won,” said Camelia. “It reinforces all we’ve been saying about the benefits and rewards of growing and cooking and shows that their ideas are brilliant ones.”
But there’s lots more to do. “We’d like to buy some new outdoor trugs, as well as develop the allotment, replace the shed and stock up on gardening tool,” explained Camelia. The school also has a kitchen for Early Years learning and Camelia has plans to help foster the next generation of growers and cookers.
She says she really can’t imagine not having the plant to plate ethos within the school. “Growing food and cooking are life-skills. It’s crucial that children are encouraged to form healthy, life-long habits.” she says. “The allotment gets them out in the fresh air, doing lots of physical jobs. They get a sense of well-being from being outside in all weathers – they just pop on the wellies and waterproofs and get out to tend their crops.”
Working together in the kitchen now could also have an impact on these children’s lives in the future. “We’re taking them to University College Birmingham’s food department to show the children what a professional kitchen looks like. Some of the children have already said they’d like a career in food, which is wonderful,” says Camelia. “I’m so proud to be part of the chain which has inspired them to get growing and cooking.”