Nicole Pisani

School Chef


How I got my job

I was the head chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant Nopi in London, but I needed a change. A friend forwarded me a tweet by Henry Dimbleby, one of the founders of Leon, asking if anyone knew a chef who might be interested in the chef position at his children’s school [Gayhurst Community School in Hackney]. I tweeted back, we met up and Henry introduced me to the head teacher. I started a year ago.

What I love about my job

All the best parts of the job are related to the children. They are such personalities and so honest about the food – good and bad! I love it when they eat everything of course, and recently I’ve been helping out with the children’s garden. It’s good to see them beginning to understand how things grow and come from the soil, especially in a city school.

What is difficult about my job

Cooking for 500+ children each day can be challenging, especially when it comes to keeping the food hot and tasty from the beginning to the end of service. Sometimes I feel limited in what we can offer.

What skills you need

Cooking is the main skill, as all our food is home-made and I strongly believe that should be the case in all schools. Also, you need to be very organised, be a team leader and be willing to get up early every morning.

Where to start

Catering school is the perfect start for anyone who wishes to be a chef, whether in a restaurant or school. They teach foundation skills that are very useful for your whole career, including cooking techniques and how kitchens are run.


Nicole collaborated with Borough Market and food education charity School Food Matters to tackle the problem of food waste. Together they helped to raise valuable funds for FareShare, an organisation that diverts good food destined for the bin to good causes.