24 Oct '19

‘In the Kitchen’ with Cheryl Humphries

We met Cheryl Humphries in the regional heats of the LACA School Chef of the Year (SCOTY) last year. She finished in second place in the South East SCOTY 2019 heat and was awarded a wildcard spot for the final, after serving up a Chinese inspired dish. This was a delicious steamed pork bun, sesame noodles and sweet and sour cucumber salad. After watching her cook in the final, we wanted to learn more about Cheryl and put her in our ‘In the Kitchen’ spotlight.

Tell us about your current role

I am currently working for ISS Education at an Academy in Kent creating delicious school food that I know pupils will enjoy. When planning menus, I take inspiration from the high street and street food trends. It’s a role I’ve enjoyed for the last 18 months but I actually have 12 years’ experience working in other schools. However, a few years back I did take one year out where I was a private chef catering in individuals' homes, also I engaged on some community projects. 

Describe what it’s like to work in your kitchen 

My kitchen is very relaxed. We’ve got a lovely big working environment where we are busy but not overloaded. It’s fast paced but we make sure there is plenty of time to get everything done without it feeling too stressful. Time just seems to fly away with you, but I always make sure we are able to interact with the students. I make a point of making everything look nice as presentation is important to me. 

Tell us more about your approach to food

I’d say my style of cooking is freestyle and I work with what I’ve got. Seasonality is also something I consider when planning my menus. My choice of what to make can sometimes be ad-hoc and I love experimenting with different flavours. As an experienced chef you just know what works and what doesn’t. 

Why did you choose to work in the sector you work in?

I fell into education when my son started primary school just under 15 years ago. At that time, I wanted a job that I could work around his school life. Whilst I’ve always loved food, it wasn’t something I’d taken much interest in. I was fortunate enough to get a job as a kitchen assistant and from then I was hooked so I went to evening school to complete my Level 3 in Professional Cookery.

What do you love most about this sector?

It’s the interaction with the students and knowing I am providing someone with food they are going to enjoy. I really love working with ISS who have encouraged me to push boundaries and enter competitions. In 2018, I won the ISS Chef of the Year title and after competing in the regional heats, I was awarded a wildcard place in the LACA School Chef of the Year final. I’m aiming to make it to the final again in 2020. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing your kitchen?

Managing the cost of food whilst trying to serve the students something they want, that meets legislation and provides plenty of choice. This is always a challenge!

What is your biggest hope for the future?

Personally, I would love to progress my own career and go into food development or a food ambassador role as I would love to do more mentoring. I’d also love to run classes to get students more involved in cooking.

Tell us about your career highlight

Winning the ISS competition. It was an amazing experience and throughout the year I went to lots of events as the winner and even judged another competition. I was fortunate enough to meet Jeanette Orrey who is a big figure in school catering and someone who I really look up to.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a chef?

Just go with it. Sometimes you may fail but it’s all part of learning. If you have a passion for food, then you will find your own style.

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