school cooks
Will this school cook competition catch on in other countries? Source: Joshua Newton/Unsplash

School cooks across the world are relied on for providing healthy and nutritious school meals for hungry students at snack times and lunchtime.

But how often are these supportive school cooks appreciated for their hearty meals and friendly smiles while serving up the daily grub?

Peering into the updates of the World Food Programme (WFP), a leading humanitarian organisation that delivers food assistance in emergencies and works with communities to improve nutrition, a Cambodian competition that celebrates school cooks recently captured the attention of the global media sphere.

Standing by Goal 2 of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development by the United Nations General Assembly (2015), WFP aims to help end hunger, to achieve food security, to improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

And with its specialised school feeding programme in progress, 16.4 million school children benefitted from nutritious WFP meals and snacks last year.

In Cambodia, the school feeding programme is currently working with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the National Social Protection Council to promote access to quality education, nutritious diets and social assistance for children at pre-primary and primary school level.

Helping schools transition to a nationally-owned, home-grown school meals model that sources ingredients from local farmers, incorporates food quality and safety, encourages community ownership and supports local economies, WFP is working towards stabilising student development in Cambodia and other countries.

And when this school cook competition arose, so did recognition for the work of WFP.

School cooks in this competition share a common passion for cooking delicious meals. Source: Aalok Atreya/Unsplash

Cooking with a social heart

Organised by the World Food Programme and Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS), the annual cooking competition gathered together 150 school cooks from different districts over the country and gave them 60 minutes to create a dish that satisfied the judges’ tastebuds and criteria.

According to an official from the MoEYS named Slat Chenda, the four main scoring points for the competition were based on the appearance, taste, hygiene and preparation process of the final dish, and strictly no artificial flavours.

“We organise the competition to promote the cooking talents of local cooks participating in the School Meal Programme. We provide a briefing to all participating cooks and school principals before the competition day. During the briefing, cooks also have an opportunity to get to know each other and share their experiences,’’ Slat Chenda explains to WFP.

Acknowledging that the top three winning cooks from each district will be selected to attend the final competition at the provincial level, all competition participants may have been hungry for victor, yet all were deemed humble by the judges.

First-prize contender, Keo Roth, received a winning medal alongside the other top three cooks at district level, and all participating cooks received a certificate of recognition to take back to their schools and display.

“I can now proudly say that the blessing that I received from the schoolchildren and their parents at the school I am working for has come true. Thank you everyone, especially those from my school,’’ Roth states.

A great way to bring the community together, school cook competitions are a genius method of raising awareness for healthy eating and supplying sustainable agriculture.

Celebrating the hard work and kindness that goes into a school cook’s student meals, this annual competition is an admirable event that other schools around the world could easily organise.

After all, one meal can go a long way, and one event with 150 meals can go even further.

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