A school in Dubai has taken its commitment to eco-consciousness up a notch – by hiring its own Michelin star trained chef.
The Farmhouse is a unique farm-to-fork canteen concept at The Arbor School – and Anna Maria Herreras, head chef at its Al Furjan Campus, asserts that theirs is the only UAE school to boast a resident Michelin star chef as part of their sustainable programme.
The school is working towards a 100 per cent sustainable kitchen, and Anna says it all starts with the children. “They plant their own herbs and vegetables in the bio farm. My job is to bring in what they’ve grown and cultivated and develop menus around what our crops are seasonally. In this way, we’re able to tie in the plantation programme with a farm-to-table concept, and make it an ecologically sound experience for the students.”
The chef – who completed a stint at Wolfgang Puck’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Spago in Beverly Hills, California – caters to meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans with nutrient-packed meals such as plum-glazed salmon with sticky rice, eggplant and zucchini potato pie, and ratatouille pasta.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the meal service will be freshly prepared on site, then individually wrapped and delivered directly to students in their classrooms, so that they’re contact-free. “We started out with 30 students, and are now serving 80 kids in just two weeks. Perhaps once Covid ends, we can think of offering the meals buffet-style, and have parents come in and enjoy the food too.”
CATCH ‘EM YOUNG: Students at The Arbor School are encouraged to help grow herbs and vegetables in the school’s Bio Dome
In the meanwhile, the environmentally passionate chef focuses on staying “100 per cent away from” all industrialised foods, making her own bread every day. “Nothing on the menu is frozen or reheated,” she says.
The idea is to help kids be more passionate about healthy food. “I’m a mom myself,” explains Anna. “I try to give my kids a well-balanced meal every day and think of different ways to make it enjoyable. So, it’s very much like any other chef job I’ve ever had – where I design and adapt my menu for my ‘clients’ – but the difference in this case is that I’m feeding children.”
The Arbor School is in its second year; however, this particular programme is just in its first season, having kicked off with the start of term earlier this month. “It was a real breath of fresh air to hear how dedicated this school is to supporting ecological philosophies,” says Anna of why she signed up with the school. “We think globally and act responsibly not only in choosing suppliers for organic and non-GMO vegetables, but also in finding out how the workers who produce our food are treated. So, our philosophies really came together.”
The kids know the woman behind their food too, according to Anna, who is also part of the team personally delivering the lunches to classrooms. “They know I’m the one making the food and the bread; I can hear them shouting ‘Here comes Chef Anna!’ down the corridor when I do the rounds sometimes! They’re always asking questions about what’s on the menu.”
The menu is international, so the kids’ curiosity also extends to cultures, apart from the actual cooking process. “Sometimes, they’ll ask about the Kung Pao Chicken, other times about what ingredients I used in that day’s sauce. Some of them tell me they’ve never tried a particular dish before, but they loved it. They’re very engaged – which is fantastic, because that’s what we’re after.”
All in all, the goal is to help them become more ecologically aware and spread a healthy lifestyle message among the student community. “You always remember the tastes and smells of food. You can discover at a young age if tomato paste is made of real tomato, or if you’re eating real bread. Most kids don’t know what that tastes like. I’m here to help them understand that the greens they grew in the bio dome are in their salad that day – which is a great thing for them to experience. The memories of eating healthy is what it’s all about.
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