Yotam Ottolenghi's former head chef is now serving up lunches for 500 students on a budget of 92p per child

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Image: Nopi head chef quits to make school dinners


Nicole Pisani, now head chef at Gayhurst community school

School dinner used to be a warzone of soggy chips and unidentifiable "meat" shapes. Not any more, and certainly not at Gayhurst community school in Hackney, London, which is about to get a new dinner lady.

She's Nicole Pisani, who made her name as head chef at Yottom Ottolenghi’s Nopi in Soho, London – you know, that Middle Eastern / Asian-inspired restaurant that has a bathroom that would put Alice’s looking glass to shame. Yep, that one. 


Until recently, Pisani was serving up dishes such as tea-smoked lamb cutlet with jalapeño salsa and miso aubergine and using burrata, onglet and yuzu on a regular basis.


I’ve always loved feeding people ... the idea that you feed someone is so rewarding
Nicole Pisani

Not any more.


After seeing a tweet sent by co-founder of the fast food restaurant chain Leon, Henry Dimbleby, saying that his son’s school was looking for a new chef to "do something amazing" with the food, Pisani applied, cooked an entire meal for the school and the rest, as they say, is history.


She told the Guardian: “In school kitchens the mentality is they are cooks, not chefs. But it would be really nice to have people who love cooking in schools.


“I’ve always loved feeding people. It’s a profession, but the idea that you feed someone is so rewarding.”


Quite what the children will make of their new menu remains to be seen. This week Pisani will be serving sweet potato and spinach dahl muffin cake with celeriac and parsnip, smashed beetroot and labneh (yum). On Friday, fresh salmon goujons or cheese and butternut squash quiche, with peashoots, sour cream and corn salsa will be on the menu (double yum).


And she plans on adding clams, sumac and even kombu seaweed into the mix. Oh yes.


Set us a place at the lunch table, please.  

School dinners: did you love 'em or hate 'em? Let us know in the comments box below ...