Culinary savoir-faire

Sylvain Chevalier, Director of Culinary Innovation: "Arousing children's curiosity to discover new tastes is essential ”

Sylvain Chevalier
Cooking balanced and gourmet meals in school canteens is a priority. On the occasion of the French “Semaine du goût” Taste Week, Sylvain Chevalier explains how to introduce children to new flavors and stimulate their appetites.

What does your job involve?

Sylvain Chevalier I’m in charge of culinary innovation for the education market in France. This involves working with Elior chefs to develop new recipes that will be served in Elior’s 640 school canteens. Getting kids to eat fries and quiches is easy. For vegetables, it’s a different story. So, our job is to cook and present dishes in such a way that gets children interested in foods that they don't like or know.

Our job is to cook and present dishes in such a way that gets children interested in foods that they don't like or know.

Sylvain Chevalier, Director of Culinary Innovation at Elior France

Concretely, how do you give children this desire to taste new foods and arouse their curiosity?

SC It’s very important get children interested in what’s on their plate and to encourage them to try out new flavors. One of the keys is how meals are actually presented. Take fish for example: while some children may be put off when it is presented in fillet form, it is very popular when served as fish rillette on toast. The color of the dishes also has a role to play. By using turmeric or paprika when cooking pasta, we obtain a nice color that allows children to learn about spices. We use what we know the children like to help them appreciate what they like less.

The other key element of course is the quality of the cooked products. We are working to create 100% home-cooked recipes: fruit purees without added sugar, home-made cookies to accompany cottage cheese, and fruit coulis, etc. Cooking meals using products requiring the least amount of processing gives our chefs greater scope to create even healthier recipes. We have notably reduced the amount of sugar in our desserts by 20% while retaining their flavor.

We are working to create 100% home-cooked recipes.

Sylvain Chevalier, Director of Culinary Innovation at Elior France

We also cook dishes from other countries. Japanese cuisine, for example, is very popular with children. We've teamed up with a chef who is helping us to create kid-friendly recipes, like vinegar rice with meat cooked in soy sauce and honey. The chef will soon be training our teams to acquire the best culinary techniques needed to ensure that their recipes are a success.

How do you make sure the kids like and eat canteen meals?

SC Every month, we carry out a satisfaction survey with our young canteen guests. At lunchtime, a panel of children taste a selection of 6 recipes, both sweet and savory, then answer a satisfaction questionnaire. The results are then analyzed. Recipes receiving a satisfactory rating exceeding 70% are retained; those that obtain a lower rating are either reworked, or abandoned.  This provides a privileged moment with the children and ensures us that we are not on the wrong track regarding our recipes.

This, therefore, gives us greater insight into what the children like and dislike; information that we can use as the basis to create balanced recipes. Take cauliflower, for example. If served cold as a vinaigrette, it may not be appreciated, but when it is baked as a cauliflower and Emmental gratin in a béchamel sauce, it works! We also know that fresh spices and herbs make a dish tastier. For our mashed potatoes, we cook the potatoes with sage, which we remove before serving, because, as I said earlier, presentation is key, and fresh herbs when presented as an integral part of the dish often turn off children. 


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