Meet the Juniper Ventures chef trainers

Posted December 13, 2022

Our food development team play a vital role at Juniper and our two Training and Development Chefs, Kerry and Rachel bring a vast amount of culinary expertise to the business. To help you learn about how we can help your school or child, we caught up with this duo as they prepared to re-launch the service at the London Design and Engineering UTC. This is a contract we have recently retained, and they have been working so hard to develop the new food offering and get the kitchens and team ready for the grand reopening.

Tell us about your current roles at Juniper Ventures

Kerry – A lot of my role is as a development chef, so I spend time creating new recipes and menus for the schools we provide catering for. The next stage would be staff training once those recipes are ready. We also run the added value elements of our service so one day we could be running a pizza making workshop for children and the next day take our smoothie bike to a different school to teach pupils about fruit and vegetables. We are always on hand to support the school catering staff to ensure that standards are consistently high across every school we look after.
Rachel – We also spend time visiting schools to look at ways we can enhance the service. So, we may offer advice on how to improve a food display and it’s important we are always showing our school chefs what good looks like. I also really enjoy helping with the School Chef of the Year (SCOTY) entries each year and assisting the management team with tenders for new business.

What do you love most about this role?

Rachel – For me, it’s the variety and flexibility within the job. Every day is different, and we are fortunate enough to work with a great team of people, with a mix of personalities. I like the challenge. However, you are also trusted to work on your own and make decisions when you need to, there’s autonomy which I feel is really important.
Kerry – I agree, it’s very varied and I like the different elements to the role, so no day is boring. Working with the children is something I really love and find very rewarding. For example, during the holidays we did a workshop where we encouraged children to try different foods and the next day some of them brought in salad as they had really enjoyed it. I also love working on new contracts. This week we have been at UTC checking equipment, making sure everything is ready, ensuring that the food is laid out how it should be.

Tell us a little bit about your career histories

Kerry – I used to work as a chef in 5-star hotels and at Champneys health clubs. I have even been a private chef, as well as working in catering for a banking group. After I had my son, I stepped away from work for five years, but when I decided to get back into a kitchen, I wanted something that would still work around my family. Managing a work life balance as a chef can be hard but I knew I needed a role that would suit me and my family. School catering was really appealing, and I feel proud to contribute my knowledge in this sector.
Rachel – I have always loved working in catering. After completing my qualifications at catering college, I worked in hotels and restaurants. When I had my son, I chose to put my career on hold. However, as my son got older, I missed catering, so I volunteered in schools doing culinary workshops. I then went on to do catering for the police, fire brigade and hospitals. One of my favourite jobs was when I trained prisoners at Holloway Prison and I learnt so much about developing people. When this role at Juniper came up, I knew it was something I could really get into and do well.

What qualities do you feel are needed to be a Head of Kitchen in school catering and why?

Rachel – You need good communication. First of all, you need to know how to talk to the pupils, your clients and your team. I am a huge believer in that it is not what you say it’s how you say it. In this role you also need good management skills as you need to feel approachable to your team. It’s important to be able to deal with different situations that may arise in the kitchen. Patience is also required as every day is different, and you may need to deal with an emergency at a moment’s notice. As you just never know what’s going to happen, you also need an open mind.
Kerry – I agree with all those points and you also need a passion for food. You have to be someone who wants to work hard as a kitchen can be a challenging environment. It’s not just about cooking food, you have to think about allergens and health and safety. Our chefs need to be trained in so many areas these days. Obviously to be a school caterer you must be able to work well with children as they look up to you.

As a chef trainer how do you inspire and develop those within your team?

Kerry – We have our training programme which we run through the holidays. The cooks are shown new dishes and learn how they are made. We teach them new skills and give them the confidence to be able to develop their own expertise too.
Rachel – This training needs to be clear and easy to understand as our chefs come from a variety of culinary backgrounds. As chef trainers we need to make the learning fun and interactive and keep it simple. Everyone learns differently so we need to be adaptable in the way we teach to get the best out of every school chef.

How have you kept yourself and your team motivated during the pandemic?

Rachel – We have worked throughout the pandemic and continued to support schools every day. I would like to say thank you to our catering manager, David who has really supported the team and brought us together. He talks to us every day at 2pm; he listens and ensures we all get to share our ideas. David is one of those people who really recognises your skill set. It has been important to talk and support each other on these calls as there have been some challenging times for everyone during the last year. We also have a team WhatsApp chat which has been really helpful, so we’ve not felt alone.

What’s your favourite dish on the new spring/summer Juniper Ventures menu and why?

Rachel – The SCOTY Keema shepherd’s pie dish with a sweet potato top is mine. It’s a British classic but with a fusion of flavours. It’s colourful and has just the right amount of spice so it’s bound to be a hit in our schools.
Kerry – We have got a Katsu curry on the menu which is my favourite. This is a type of street food which is really trendy right now. It is served with noodles and tastes fantastic. I think the children will love it.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Juniper team?

Rachel – That feeling of togetherness. We are a small team, and we communicate well but the wider office is always at the end of the phone if we need them. Our development team have good fun; we laugh and share ideas and listen to each other.
Kerry – Everyone is striving for the same thing; we all want to give the best service we can to the children and our clients. We want to take children on a journey and give them a love of food that will last a lifetime.

Share your top tip for encouraging children and young people to try new dishes.

Kerry – It’s about engaging with every child and bringing fun into the food. We don’t want pupils to be afraid of trying something new, so we slowly introduce them to different flavours and textures.
Rachel – Keep them involved and get them to talk about the food. We encourage them to ask questions and tell them about different ingredients or styles of cooking. There may be a dish that before a workshop they would never have thought about touching but they realise it tastes nice when they try it.
Kerry – We also focus on the importance of good food. Children need to understand about putting the right food in their body and the impact this can have on their health.