‘Dinner man’ from Stevenage’s Valley School into national final after old family recipe helps him win East of England best chef accolade

Michael at the competition.

Michael at the competition. - Credit: Archant

A Stevenage school ‘dinner man’ has been crowned the best school chef in the East of England using an old family recipe – and he’s set to go up against nine other regional champs in the national final in March.

Award-winning Stevenage dinner man Michael Goulston with his prize and winning dishes.

Award-winning Stevenage dinner man Michael Goulston with his prize and winning dishes. - Credit: Archant

Michael Goulston, who cooks at the Valley School, was named LACA East of England School Chef of the Year 2017 in Birmingham on Wednesday, winning with a main course of Hertfordshire chicken and ham pot pie, mustard mash and veggies, with coconut panna cotta for afters.

The 43-year-old gets all his meat and veg locally in the New Town – and he says proper home-cooked food is ‘exactly what kids should be eating’.

“It’s a relief that I’ve got through,” Michael told the Comet. “It’s been tough, but the support’s been amazing. It’s hard to describe it, I’ve never had anything like this happen before.

“This is an old family recipe my mum used to make and I still make for my own boys.

“Because I’ve got kids myself I used to get a lot of feedback from them – and at the school when you get compliments from the youngsters, when they come up to the counter and say it was really nice, you get a real buzz.

“It’s a case of going back to basics – back to proper home-cooked food. I know they’re trying really hard to get back to scratch and I agree with that completely. I think proper, home-cooked food is exactly what kids should be eating.”

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Valley School head Corina Foster added: “Michael is amazing with our pupils – he responds to their needs and puts them first.”

Michael won the live regional final at the Harborne Food School after a cook-off in which he and the other contestants, watched by a panel of judges, had 90 minutes and a budget of just £1.30 to cook four main courses and desserts suitable for 11-year-old school pupils.

He chef now goes on to the national final, set to be held in Stratford-upon-Avon on March 2 next year.

Asked how it felt to be breaking barriers for men in school catering, dad-of-two Michael said: “I think it’s great.

“We need to get more men in the kitchen – there’s a lot of hidden talent – but I think they might be a bit scared because there’s still a lot of stigma.”

Michael, who is originally from Sidcup in Kent, has lived in Stevenage for about 10 years. He’s been in catering since 1988, and joined Herts Catering Ltd in May last year.

“I don’t know how to thank them,” said Michael. “It was the development chef David Gower who asked if I’d like to enter this. There’s been so much support, we get so much feedback. If it wasn’t for them none of this would have happened.”

HCL chief executive Lin O’Brien said: “We’re delighted that Michael has won the regional final and secured a place at the national competition.

“This is a fantastic achievment for him and all of us at HCL are very proud.”