Brighton College draft top chef for restaurant-style lunches

'I really want to speak to the fact that many more children are health-conscious these days,' says the new master of the menu, Ben McKellar

Brighton College has drafted in the talents of renowned city chef and owner of the popular Gingerman restaurant group, Ben McKellar, to revamp its school lunch menus.

This week pupils at the Sussex independent school were delighted to encounter the likes of steamed salmon or poached egg with sweet potato cakes, spinach purée and toasted seeds when they filed into the dining hall.

The move comes after the head of catering at the school, Fiona Carnes, and the school’s headmaster, Richard Cairns, decided to introduce restaurant-standard lunches at the school – while still catering for more than 1,000 pupils every lunchtime.

She drafted in Ben, a very well-known figure in Brighton after he and wife Pamela set up the Gingerman group back in 1998. They have since established four restaurants in Sussex, all hugely popular.

“When Fiona approached me with a brief, I was very impressed by how ambitious the school was,” said Ben. “There is a whole generation of adults out there who will not eat things like cabbage and liver because it was cooked so poorly when they were at school. I wanted to make sure children were open to eating new things because they were prepared and cooked well.”

Ben’s menus include beef and cumin meatballs or falafel with turmeric cous cous and yoghurt; tandoori chicken or tandoori quorn rice pilaf, beetroot raita and coleslaw; and honey, tamari and sesame chicken or sesame tofu with coriander rice.

 “I really wanted to speak to the fact that many more children are health-conscious these days. I wanted to introduce fruits and veg to them that they might normally shy away from. They might not normally eat spinach but if you put it in a purée, they are more open to it. Or I will create a dressing that I know the children will like, like the pomegranate dressing, which both encourages them to eat salad and also try pomegranates,” added Ben. 

And the result after one week’s menus?

 “The reaction has been amazing,” said Fiona. “We have offered not only meals in the dining room but also deli boxes and salads to take away and the pupils really like the variety. The real test is not to see what they choose to put on their trays but what they return on them when they finish. It has been lovely to see them empty!”