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Teach children how to grow food, urges chef Raymond Blanc


[The Independent, 28th August 2013]

The chef Raymond Blanc has called for gardening lessons to be made compulsory in schools to help children learn the importance of fresh ingredients and healthy eating.

The restaurateur and BBC presenter called on Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to extend his plans to make cooking classes compulsory for children aged 7-14 from next September, to include outdoor lessons in which children learn to cultivate foods for the dining table.

‘At last Mr Gove has made food part of the curriculum. I hope gardening will soon be part of the study programme,’ Blanc told The Independent.

Learning how to plant a vegetable garden, along with knowledge of the wildlife and bugs which share any garden space, will help combat the obesity crisis, the French chef believes.

‘We have a wonderful opportunity to truly reconnect with food. We need to engage with the outside world, with our gardens and the life within them,’ Blanc said. ‘Children need to learn the simple magic of taking food from the seed, from the earth or from the rivers and then to transform it into something simple and delicious.’

‘We have a multi-billion dollar problem with heart disease, diabetes and obesity because of intensive farming and heavily processed food. We could learn to eat carrot soup produced from our gardens.”

Blanc has produced an animated cooking iPad app for children, called Henri Le Worm, which features recipes and a cast of insects voiced by film star Simon Pegg. The app encourages children to explore Henri’s magical ‘Forest of Plenty’ and ‘reconnect with nature’.

‘We are the generation who truly messed it up by creating so many problems for our kids by reducing food to a mere commodity,’ said the chef who plans to open his own gardening school at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, his double Michelin-starred Oxford restaurant, which offers cookery classes for children. The gardens at Le Manoir supply 90 types of fresh salads and vegetables and 70 varieties of herb to the restaurant.

Blanc, who left France to launch his cooking career in England 40 years ago, rejected Jamie Oliver’s claim that immigrant workers are more prepared to work long hours than British staff. ‘I disagree with that strongly,’ he said. ‘It might be true in France where the 35 hour week is killing our spirit of entrepreneurship but I have many, many British chefs and they are very hard-working.’

Restaurateurs should not exploit their staff, Blanc said. ‘It’s totally unreasonable to ask anyone to work more than 60 hours a week. Maybe it’s a reason why we don’t have more kids coming into our industry because who wants to work maybe 80 hours a week? You have to balance work and having a life but most of my chefs are British and they work very hard and deliver a great service.’

Simon Pegg, who attended the launch of the app, co-created by Casualty actress Charlotte Salt, said he hoped Henri Le Worm would improve the image of insects. ‘It will encourage kids not to be so mean to superficially gross animals,’ he said.

The Star Trek star added: ‘There is the potential to put behind us the era of processed food and actually start realising the importance of organic food and eating well. We can start afresh with this new generation of kids and not put that crap into them.’

Under Mr Gove’s plan, cooking lessons at school will become compulsory for children next year as the Government aims to ensure they can make up to 20 dishes before taking their GCSE exams.

Schools which offer gardening classes have reported widespread benefits. Howarth Primary School in West Yorkshire placed food, gardening and nutrition at the centre of school life, encouraging children to cook vegetable kebabs in class. A gardening club offered evening food-planting sessions. Three years after the programme started school meal take-up had risen by 50 per cent and the school’s Sat results had soared.