When at school, it is a delight to look forward, in anticipation, of lunch. This great banquet is prepared in-situ, daily and caters for several hundred children from nursery age to 18 year olds, maintenance staff, administrators, support staff, teachers and visitors, vegetarians and religious diets, not forgetting that it is served over two sites. Our school Chef is an unsung hero. These aren’t the school-dinners of childhood memories: lumpy, odd-tasting mash and congealed milk puddings, find instead a colourful crudité bar with a selection of fresh vegetables and salads, main courses offering meat, fish or a vegetarian dish accompanied by hot vegetables and ’filler’, cheese, fruit, yogurts and the occasional éclair treat; wow! I grieve to hear the occasional rumbling of dissatisfaction when perhaps something is not exactly to liking; this is mass, institutional catering that is served to a strict timescale and on a budget. Delicate white fish complimented by flavoursome sauces and meat dishes that include stews, tagine, roasts and ‘individual’s’ such as breaded Cordon Bleu’s that I certainly think covers a multitude of tastes. Come on chaps; let’s celebrate the good fortune that we share together, each and every school day…

My timetable allowed an early lunch last week so Chef was helping the smaller children, which was fortuitous as he was serving one of my favourite salads, Fennel & Fig. This dish combines a tasty balance of great autumnal flavours: fresh tasting, wafer fine fennel, sweet figs and the aromatic notes of leaf coriander, complimented by a sweet-salt soya sauce based dressing. I feel certain that the occasional walnut appears and the addition of toasted fennel seeds will work a treat too.

Fennel & Fig Salad
Serves 8

Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. balsamic creme
1 tbsp. soya sauce
1 medium fennel bulb
4 dried figs; the semi–soft variety if possible
Handful coriander, chopped
Freshly milled black pepper

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together. Trim the stalks from the fennel then finely slice the bulb with a mandolin if available but alternatively, use a very sharp knife; add to the dressing. Finely slice the figs, adding to the bowl along with the coriander and a pinch of black pepper. Toss well to make sure that the fennel is coated in dressing and the salad is ready to serve.