Talking Early Years with June O’Sullivan: In Conversation with Naomi Duncan

February 1st 2021

Rising to the Occasion – WHY Nursery Chefs Must be Integral to All Early Years Settings

The importance of a good nursery chef cannot be underestimated. But we often don’t realise this until they are no longer with us. You never cherish what you have till it is no longer there.

The stereotype of the nursery chef is of a very proprietorial chef – similar to the giant on top of the beanstalk who can sniff out the presence of a non-chef in their kitchen a mile off!  But that is unfair because chefs come in all forms but one thing that all great chefs have in common is that they love to cook with passion.


For many years, I have been bewildered by our inconsistent attitude to chefs in nurseries. To me, they are central to the pedagogy which is why LEYF chefs have activities with children, conversations with parents and demonstration sessions built into their job descriptions. In fact, this inspired me to develop a professional qualification specifically for them as well as create the LEYF Early Years Chef Academy – the first of its kind for the sector.


Even though it was a long and arduous process, I never regretted my research which included watching the Saturday mornings chef programmes, reading cookbooks and testing some of the dishes in my own kitchen.

However, I remain frustrated by how long it is taking to put Early Years chefs on the map – especially in a world where we have a public health obesity crisis and one in four children are already obese by the time they are 10 years old. Of course there is no magic vaccine to make us immune from obesity but as the Early Years advisor to London’s Child Obesity Task Force at City Hall we are working hard to try and unpack the obesogenic environment that impacts so negatively on children’s health.

The nursery chefs are crucial to this because early intervention is the best weapon we have against childhood obesity. A well-trained chef will learn about food for children, what builds a colourful and nutritional plate, what size is a healthy portion, how to bake sugar-free cakes and prepare healthy snacks and even birthday cakes made from fruit!


Most of all, confident and knowledgeable chefs will instil that confidence in both staff and parents alike. Very few parents are not reassured by a conversation with a chef who has persuaded their taciturn two-year-old to eat and enjoy mackerel pate until they see their child happily trying this at home. We have recently recorded some fantastic videos of our Chefs in action. Watch this space.


I was delighted to have recently interviewed to Naomi Duncan (CEO of Chefs in Schools) for my Podcast series. Naomi is leading a new revolution to take on food and food education in schools as part of an initiative backed by leading chefs and restaurateurs including Henry Dimbleby, Prue Leith and Yottam Ottolenghi. Already, they have changed the face of school food for more than 10,000 pupils across the UK.

Click here to find out what she had to say.