Edinburgh ‘dinner lady’ wins School Chef of the Year heat

Karen Cuthbertson will be in the National Final. Picture: Lee Marshall/Autographic Photo
Karen Cuthbertson will be in the National Final. Picture: Lee Marshall/Autographic Photo
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While many of us will have traumatic memories of school dinners, the current crop of students at Edinburgh’s Mary Erskine’s school will have no such complaints.

That’s because their ‘dinner lady’ is an award-winning chef.

Last Wednesday, school head chef Karen Cuthbertson was crowned the North East & Scotland School Chef of the Year 2019, beating three other chefs to the title.

The three North East & Scotland contestants who qualified to take part in the live Regional Final held at Doncaster College had to cook their dishes against the clock and under the scrutiny of a panel of judges.

They had 90 minutes to prepare four portions of a main course and a dessert suitable for serving to 11-year-olds in school.

Karen, who is employed by Inspire Catering and based at The Mary Esrkine School in Edinburgh, wowed the judges with her two winning dishes.

The mouth-watering main course featured a marinated chicken served on top of a basil sponge with rocket salad. For dessert, Karen made a carrot and banana cake pizza with a date sauce.

Karen, who is originally from Glasgow but has lived in Edinburgh for 30 years, spoke of her delight at taking the regional crown, the first Scot to do so in a number of years.

“The response from everybody here at the school has just been phenomenal,” beamed Karen, 54.

“I’m immensely proud to represent the school, the company and, of course, my country, Scotland.”

Thanks to her winning performance, Karen now goes on to compete against nine other Regional Champions in the National Final to be held on 7 March 2019 in Stratford upon Avon.

She added: “I tried the menu out at the school a few times and it went down excellent, really well received.

“I think once this all sinks in, it’ll be heads down and start practicing again in preparation for March.”

A spokesperson for the Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA), the organisation behind the School Chef of the Year Competition, said: “Congratulation to Karen Cuthbertson on her success at the 2019 North East & Scotland Regional Final.

“We have had a number of National Winners from Scotland in past years, both in 2005 and 2010 so we wish Karen good luck going forward to this year’s National Final in March”.

Phil Winn, General Manager at Stewart’s Melville College and The Mary Erskine School, was full of praise for “superstar” Karen and said he planned on joining her in Stratford for the national final.

“It’s brilliant for us all and we’re really thrilled for Karen and for the school as well. She’s a superstar.

“As head chef here, she feeds 1,200 pupils and staff. Karen and the team do such a terrific job.

“It’ll be great for her to go down to Stratford and I’m hoping to join her for support.”