Steven Cross from Havant, Hampshire, has scooped the national title of LACA School Chef of the Year 2019.

He was voted Britain’s No 1 school chef by a panel of judges at the National Final which took place on March 7 at Stratford upon Avon College, Warwickshire.  Steven was one of two wild card entrants awarded a special national final place by the judges.

Now in its 25thanniversary year, the competition is the flagship event for school chefs to showcase their professional skills.  It is organised by the LeadAssociation for CAtering in Education(LACA)and is sponsored by McDougalls.

Steven’s winning dishes were:

Main Course: Rocking Moroccan Chicken – marinated chicken chargrilled and served with homemade Moroccan flatbread and roasted harissa vegetables garnished with mint yoghurt, nasturtium, chilli and mint.

Dessert: North African Rose – North African rosewater and cardamom cheese cake accompanied by blood orange, chocolate and mint.

Amongst the ingredients included in his main course was McDougalls Self Raising Flour and in his dessert, Steven used McDougalls Chocolate Cookie Mix and McDougalls Orange Jelly.

Steven Cross is based at Park Community School, Havant, Hampshire where he prepares 4-500 meals a day for 11-16 year olds.  He has been a school chef for five years.

Steven has always had a clear passion for food starting from a very young age. He could always be found cooking in the family kitchen alongside his mother, also a chef. Studying at his local catering college he was offered the great opportunity to take a placement as a Royal Chef at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, this sparked Steven’s interest for great food and pushed him further.

He holds an extensive line up of hospitality, catering and workplace skills and best practice qualifications.  After leaving college, he moved into fine dining working at number of establishments including Langrish House Hotel and Michelin starred restaurants 36 On The Quay and then JSW Restaurant, during which time he really learnt how to source and use good quality local and seasonal produce.

Wanting a change of direction, Steven joined Park Community School in June 2014 as head chef.  This has proved very successful and seen him and his team win numerous awards. Amongst these are a LACA Secondary School of the Year Award 2018; four EDUcatering Excellence Awards and Bronze, Silver and Gold Food for Life Awards from the Soil Association.

Steven now consults at six local Hampshire schools helping them to move over to a fresh food service and to take their catering in house.

In addition to the kudos of winning the national title, the 2019 champion received a £1000 cash prize and the LACA 2019 School Chef of the Year trophy.  The winner has also won a work experience trip and an invitation to a calendar of high profile catering industry engagements between 2019 – 2020. The national second and third place winners received cash prizes of £500 and £300 respectively.

Commenting on the outstanding professional standard of all of the 2019 national finalists, LACA national chair, Michael Hales, said: “LACA School Chef of the Year is a snapshot of the passion and professionalism of today’s school chefs. Working at the frontline of school catering, all have first-hand experience of the challenges of feeding both children and young people. The competition also shows the commitment that is put into producing both high quality, nutritious food every day and with the imaginative ingredients, flavours and themes used for their dishes, school meals that have maximum appeal for discerning children and young people”.

Mark Rigby, executive chef, Premier Foods, commented: “A huge congratulations to Steven Cross.  His winning main course of rocking Moroccan chicken which included McDougalls Self Raising Flour and his dessert of North African rosewater and cardamom cheesecake made with McDougalls Orange Jelly and McDougalls Chocolate Cookie Mix, truly represented the high level of talent and skill within the school catering industry.”

On winning the national title,Steven Cross said: “I am so proud to have won the national title. With the standard and skill level amongst this year’s finalists being so high, I felt it was an achievement in itself just getting through to the national final, let alone being able to compete with such a talented group of people. All of this just goes to prove what a good job school chefs do, day in, day out, up and down the country in providing tasty, nutritious meals for millions of children.”