Celebrated chef Paul O’Hara launched Healthy Eating Week on Monday by giving pupils at St Peter’s Catholic College in South Bank a glimpse of his vision for the healthy, nutritious and delicious school meals of the future. 

NPCAT trust development chef, Paul O’Hara

Paul – who made his name working at Michelin-starred restaurants – has taken on the challenge of transforming dinners for 9,000 children in 27 Nicholas Postage Catholic Academy Trust (NPCAT) schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire.

In what’s believed to be a nationwide first, NPCAT has appointed the former executive chef at the five red-star Rockliffe Hall Hotel in Hurworth as its new trust development chef.

His duties will include supporting school cooks and kitchens, improving the quality of school meals on offer and the overall dining experience. He will also work to develop pupils’ cooking skills and interest in healthy eating.

Paul will support school cooks and kitchens in delivering high quality school lunches

Paul is already getting his teeth into the new role and was delighted to spend time with St Peter’s cook Mick Blane and pupils.

“I love catering for children,” he says. “I have a son and daughter and often ask them for suggestions of what they’d like to see on the menu.

“I’m delighted to take on this exciting opportunity to make a real difference to the health of our young people – after all, what could be more rewarding?”  

“I don’t see what I do as a job. I don’t think of it as going to work. I am being paid to do something that I enjoy. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be doing a job you don’t like – it must be awful!” 

School meals are once again in the national spotlight after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver staged an “Eton mess” protest outside Number 10 Downing Street last month against what he said was a government U-turn over plans to implement a “world class” anti-obesity strategy.

Head of estates and facilities Matthew Laverick says appointing Paul puts NPCAT at the forefront of the drive to ensure it offers all pupils a healthy and tasty meal every day.

He said: “Bringing him here is a real coup. Paul’s already fitting in very well with the team. He’s very approachable, flexible and calm under pressure. He likes to get things done, but he’s also very process-driven.”   

“His role will include making sure children are enjoying the food on offer and he’ll be looking at the numbers and uptake of school meals and raising quality and standards. 

“He will visit schools on a rolling basis and look at areas such as presentation, menu choice and the skills of the staff.”

However, that’s only the start of it.

“He will also provide added value across the trust and within the wider community as well,” says Matthew. 

“We plan to hold theme days across the trust, cooking development sessions and demonstrations, and he will also be working with the children.

Paul will work with NPCAT pupils to improve their cooking skills

“For example, he might work with Year 13 children who are leaving our sixth form to teach them how to cook for themselves at university, or show Year 6 children how to cook simple things like eggs.”

Paul has more than 27 years of experience in catering, mainly working with hotels and Michelin-star restaurants.

Born in Trimdon, County Durham, he started his career in catering as a pot washer in Devon and only started cooking because the agency chef didn’t turn up.

He moved on to the Selfridge Hotel on Oxford Street, before returning to the North-East.

As head chef at Bistro 21 in Durham, he then worked alongside world-renowned chefs Paul Rankin, Brian Turner, Nigel Haworth, Nick Nairn and Paul Heathcote.

In 2006 Paul opened his own restaurant and pub, the Bridge Inn in Whorlton Village. The pub was featured twice on the front cover of the AA Good Pub Guide as well as winning North-East Pub of the Year and AA Pub of the Year.

British Nutrition Foundation’s 10th Healthy Eating Week took place from June 13 to 17. This year’s message was “Eat well for you and the planet!” The foundation asked everyone from nurseries and schools to workplaces and community groups to get involved – watch out for more on healthy eating from Paul and NPCAT Catering in the coming months…

Local Media Coverage

BBC Radio Tees went along to St Peter’s Catholic College to meet Paul and the lead teacher for catering, Mrs Hart – listen to the feature here at around 1h 35m.

Schools North East also featured the story in the healthy Eating Week 2022 roundup here.