South Norwood chef Sharon Taylor, of St Giles School in South Croydon, in the running to win School Chef of the Year 2014
For many of us, the mere memory of school-dinner staples such as cremated turkey twizzlers and lukewarm sponge and custard is enough to have us begging for a packed lunch.
But for the lucky pupils of one South Croydon school, lunchtime is rather more mouth-watering.
Sharon Taylor, the head chef at St Giles School in Pampisford Road, serves up a menu to make Jamie Oliver proud.
Her culinary creations include delicately spiced Peruvian chicken thighs with tomato ceviche and tofu-based coconut chilli chocolate pots with griddled pineapple.
Now the 50-year-old, of Enmore Avenue, South Norwood, is in the running to be crowned queen of the capital's kitchens.
She will battle seven other school chefs vying to be named London's best later this month.
She said: "I'm pleased to have got to the final. We have worked very hard to get all sorts of different cultures and food tastes represented in the school meals.
"Children these days have got really sophisticated tastes and a lot of the old traditional foods they think are a bit bland and boring.
"I grew up in Australia so I didn't experience the school meals system until I started working here as a cook.
"I've heard the horror stories from by husband and friends, so I'm glad school food has moved on and developed and children seem to enjoy it. It is very rewarding."
Mrs Taylor, who has worked as a cook for eight years and at St Giles for four, cooks for 60 children each lunchtime alongside two assistants.
She said: "St Giles is a unique school - there are lots of children with high dietary and medical needs.
"The pupils have heightened senses anyway - you have got to season it well and make it interesting for them.
"They are quite partial to a hot curry here. It is nice to be able to put flavour in."
She added: "This year I looked at the nationality mix of the school and we do quite a few international days here where we explore different cultures and foods.
"We had a new pupil come into the school whose family are from Peru and a couple of pupils from Brazil, so I looked around that South American region and got influences from that."
Mrs Taylor will serve up her signature dishes in a Masterchef-style cook-off at Croydon College on February 27. The two-course menu must cost just £1.60.
The winner will enter into national School Chef of the Year finals in May.
The competition is run annually by the Lead Association for Catering in Education.
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