The Bristol-born chef has joined Christ’s College Finchley as its head chef and senior food educator in collaboration with charity Chefs in Schools.
As well as serving food to hundreds of students every day, Francis has plans to start an orchard and grow produce on site.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t say no to,” she says. “I’m absolutely thrilled and really excited to get stuck in.
“Teens and kids are the toughest customers - their feedback is more intimidating and honest than most food critics and I can’t wait for the challenge.”
“It’s going to be a real challenge to work out what these students want. This is going to be a fun amalgamation of my professional experience and cooking for myself and friends and family.
“I have some ideas but want to work with the current team on site to learn their expertise. So much untapped knowledge for food is there. It’s not just about what I want to cook and that’s really exciting.”
Francis was most recently head chef at British restaurant Maene, which opened this spring, and has previously worked at The Ritz and Zebra Riding Club in Hertfordshire. She recently made her debut on Great British Menu.
“The quality of food that school children in England consume is too high in fat content and too low in vitamins and minerals. To keep them healthy we need to encourage them to consume more fruit and vegetables as well as keeping active,” says Samson Olusanya, headteacher at Christ’s College Finchley.
“I also think there needs to be a real emphasis on sustainability in eating. Many of our young people have a real drive and consciousness for looking after our planet as well and educating young people will be an important step forward.”
To help Amber make the transition from a London restaurant to a school kitchen are Nicole Pisani, former head chef at NOPI and co-founder of Chefs in Schools, and one of the charity’s chef trainers, Andy Pycroft.
“Everything you are used to changes - it is a different kind of pressure and there is a far greater work/life balance but there is also the thrill of using your creativity to fuel the future and spark curiosity about varied diets and exciting food,” says Pisani.
“You must build the confidence of your new team, who will have a wealth of knowledge and recipes they cook at home for family but may not feel confident to cook for pupils. Working in school food is a job for a special chef who relishes a challenge, cares about feeding people great, nurturing food and wants to make a difference to future generations.”
Chefs in Schools was established in June 2018 with the aim of transforming food, food culture and food education in schools through training, guidance and support.