Trail Meets Oli Pagani from Chefs in Schools

In our new interview series, we're putting operations in the spotlight. Getting unique insights from the front line. First up: Oli Pagani from Chefs in Schools.
Jo Stephenson-Thompson
Dec 2023
4 min read

We love all our customers, but if we had to pick a favourite... Chefs in Schools would be up there.

They are a charity on a mission to improve the quality of school meals, and teach children how to make healthy and delicious food, cooked from scratch.

They work with the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and Thomasina Miers to help recruit and train chefs to run school kitchens, to transform school lunches, upskill school kitchen staff, and teach children how to cook.

To date, they’ve helped schools across the country switch beige food for nutritious meals. And, during the pandemic, they distributed nearly 500,000 free school meal hampers to support families who have been badly hit by the economic impact of Covid.

We sat down with Oliver, Chef Trainer at Chefs in Schools, to learn more about the charity, his role, and how the team have adapted their operations during the pandemic.

How it all started with Chefs in Schools

I worked with Nicole Pisani, the Co-Founder of Chefs in Schools, in NOPI and then again at Gayhurst Primary School, and I just loved working with her.

At first, I was attracted to working in a school because of the hours and kinder working conditions. But once I started, the need to improve school food was the driving factor. A sense of purpose.

My role in a nutshell...

Chef Trainer - I am the support and guide that a chef has when first entering a school kitchen from the world of private restaurants etc. I am also the ‘Trail Champion’ for Chefs In Schools.

What I love most about my job...

I love the fluid nature of working around a lot of different people and helping them out with their individual needs. To go from location to location and help and support people wanting a better life for themselves and the children they cook for is really great.

My biggest motivator

The need for a nationwide change to how we see food and the function it plays in our lives. Food touches everything from sustainability to mental health, and harnessing it to improve the lives of others is a huge motivating force for me.

How I get the most out of my team...

I try to exemplify the attitude that I want to see in the various teams I work with. Keeping the ethos of Chefs in Schools at the forefront of what we do helps to keep a ship tossed in the waves from going off course. I hope that it passes on to those I work with.

The biggest challenges...

The lack of support and funding from the government on something that affects millions of children’s lives is really frustrating and a huge challenge. And I think the fear of change is at the core of the issue—it prevents schools from getting on board and doing what’s best for their kids.

And since Covid?

Being able to still offer the same quality of support, despite the restrictions in place. This is more during lockdown than during the Covid era overall.

Has Trail helped during the pandemic?

Trail’s Covid checklists put our chefs minds at rest. Ongoing WhatsApp threads between the chefs were replaced with quick and simple covid forms and checklists on Trail. Having a reporting dashboard is really beneficial because we can address any health and safety issues remotely when we haven’t been able to make in person visits due to covid. And, the simple nature of Trail has meant when teams have had to self isolate other teams have been able to pick up where the previous team have left off.

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