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Back to School: Arbor’s fork-to-farm canteen

The Arbor School is working towards a carbon neutral on-site kitchen, and instilling a sustainable healthy food culture at its Al Furjan Campus this academic year, with the launch of its unique farm-to-fork canteen concept, The Farmhouse at Arbor.

Spearheaded by environmentally driven, Michelin-star trained cook, baker and restaurateur, Chef Anna Maria Herreras, she brings a vast range of culinary experience from her work in America, Spain and the Middle East to the project. The Farmhouse at Arbor offers balanced, fresh and delicious meal plans to all Arbor School students from FS1 through to Year 8. 

What’s the vision behind the Farmhouse at Arbor?
It’s a nutrition and wellbeing initiative programme designed to provide a solution for the school canteen and café, and create a link between the wellbeing of our students and the farm to fork experience.

The aim is to provide seasonal lunches and snacks from a sustainable kitchen, created from the highest quality, locally sourced and organic ingredients.

What’s special about the Farmhouse at Arbor? What makes it different from any other schools’ cafeterias?
Our kitchen is fully sustainable and unique aligned with the school’s core values of eco-literacy, sustainability and environmental justice. It makes full use of school-grown produce and cultivation by way of our own plantation (the bio farm) and children get see where their food comes from and eat it.

We compost all our own food waste from the kitchen making sure we are consciously giving something back to the planet. We truly provide a unique dining experience for students: nothing is fried, or frozen and then defrosted. Everything is fresh and 100% natural from top quality local suppliers.

We want our tomatoes to taste like tomatoes and our cucumbers to taste like cucumbers. We’re less dependent on industrialised foods, and select our suppliers mindfully. For example, we buy our fish from people who trace where the fish has come from.

We also look for responsible companies to provide the coffee we use in our parent café. We chose the suppliers who think globally about worker rights and focus on organic cultivation.

To ensure students stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the meal service will be freshly-prepared on-site, hygienically packaged and individually boxed, and delivered directly to students in their classrooms. All our bread is baked on site and we cater to vegan, vegetarian and meat eaters.

What’s on the menu and do you cater for kids with special dietary requirements?
We have a main menu which includes meat options and then a vegetarian and vegan option. Parents can choose for their children to cater to their dietary requirements. Strictly no nuts, no chocolate, and no frying allowed on campus. Sorry to the brownie lovers! But we do have carrot cake, bread pudding, cheesecake, custard, cookies, all home baked on site at school.

Dishes include Plum Glazed Salmon with Sticky Rice, Steamed Edamame and Apple Sticks, Kung Pao Chicken with Steamed Snap Peas, Carrot and Pineapple Wedges, and Eggplant and Zucchini Potato Pie with Carrot Salad and Slices Pear.

Plus, Vegetable Paella with Chickpeas, Green Salad and Grapes, Black Bean Falafel with Steamed Rice, Garden Salad, Pita Bread and Orange Wedges, and Ratatouille Pasta with Green Salad and Banana.

What’s the thought process behind each meal available on the menu?Making sure every meal is healthy and balanced with exactly the right amount of carbs and proteins. There’s always a fresh fruit and leafy green salad item included.

To make it fun, we’re region-inspired. We will include an American dish, Italian dish, Mexican, etc. We have home-made tortillas made from corn and flour all made on site in the kitchen. We are internationally diverse, healthy and tasty at the same time. The food that the children eat isn’t experimental, but a culinary experience and we aim to give them a worldly journey at lunchtime.

Where do you source the ingredients and food from? Talk to us more about this process. 
We try to be seasonal in our dishes and at the same tie up local organic produce and producers as much as possible. I was asked to come here to open the ‘back door to the garden’.

Our team of gardeners and ecologists work with our students in our biofarm so they can truly understand the ecological processes involved in food production.

Older students have the opportunity to measure light intensity, planting frequencies, harvest rates, monitor the growth periods and pull as much scientific data from the food production systems as possible.

This is another truly unique space on campus, and it illustrates our commitment to giving our students a deeper understanding of how food is grown organically and to develop their self-sufficiency and understanding of ‘farm to fork’ concept.

How does creating a menu and coming up with concepts for kids at school feels like? What’s the difference between catering to an audience of school kids/students and guests at hotels and restaurants, for example?
As Chefs, we’re always cooking for customers so in a way it’s the same thing the only difference is that my customers are the children and their tastes are developing.

I have witnessed children in school who do not like tomato’s love an Italian Ragu because it has been slowly cooked to bring out the sweetness. A good chef will be flexible and adapt to the needs and requests of customers. Taking into account dietary and culinary needs and use them to adapt and reinvent a menu. 

I take great delight in seeing students come to my kitchen door and beg me to tell them what’s on the menu today. When I’m delivering lunches to classrooms, my two vegans are jumping out of their skins to find out what they have for lunch that day. 

Even our minority customers are treated to specially handmade vegan meals and desserts, with individual packaging. Our children deserve to have a wonderful culinary experience every day for lunch.


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