Chefs are ditching restaurant kitchens and reclaiming their work/life balance by taking employment in schools, thanks to a number of initiatives. 

Earlier this year the Prue Leith-backed ‘Chefs in Schools’ charity made national headlines for luring the UK’s best chefs to schools – with three schools in London taking on chefs from high-end eateries Dabbous and the Riding House Café. 

The charity was set up by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the healthy fast-food chain Leon, who hit on the idea after Nicole Pisani, the chef from Ottolenghi’s Soho restaurant NOPI, started working at his children’s primary school. 

Mr Dimbleby says of the initiative which aims to put 100 chefs in 100 schools by 2023: 

“A job as a school cook appeals to restaurant chefs who are sick of working 100-hour weeks at unsociable hours. 

He adds: “Eating in school should be a pleasurable experience: time spent sharing good food with peers and teachers.” 

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Case Study 

Chef Mark Wilkinson is part of a pioneering new generation of school caterers who are turning their backs on top-class restaurants to cook for kids. 

Three months ago Mark took the plunge from the 80-hour weeks he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants and prize-winning gastro pubs to a head up a small school kitchen in the picturesque Ribble Valley. 

Reclaiming his work/life balance, dad-of-three Mark now hones his considerable skills at Oakhill School and Nursery in Whalley, where the age of diners ranges from three months to 16 years. 

Mark’s own impressive resumé includes working alongside Francis Coulson at the Michelin-starred Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater in the Lake District. 

A Country Range customer, Mark’s first day is one he won’t forget in a hurry: “It was half-term holidays, so school was closed and the fridge was empty! However, I still had 60 nursery children to feed – lunch and tea. I thought what have I walked into?” 

No school slop for Project Scot

A similar project called Chefs@School ( has been running for the past five years in Scotland, with the government’s backing. 

Administered by Scottish chefs, its aim is to encourage culinary and food industry professionals to work with teachers and children across Scotland and bring food education to life. 

“The organisation currently provides food education to over 30,000 children,” says chef Marie-Clare James, the project’s co-ordinator. 

The programme has delivered hands-on cooking experiences since September 2013 and links volunteer chefs with their local schools to showcase cooking skills and to help children understand more about their food and where it comes from. 

Adds Marie-Clare: “We work with young people aged 3-18 years old in a school environment where we aim to deliver hands-on cooking experiences to educate and inspire young people about their food