Copenhagen House of Food (Fonden Københavns Madhus) was created in 2007 with support from the city council and has changed the way children were eating school lunches through the creation of so-called Culinary Schools within the public school system.
There are currently fourteen schools in Copenhagen with culinary schools and four more on the way this year.
These kitchens are run by a chef or cook who has a team of between four and eight children from grades 4 to 8, who work in the kitchen on food preparation each week.
Across the city, these kitchens produce 4,000 portions of food every day made from around 90 percent organic ingredients.
Prior to the creation of the culinary schools in 2007, the norm in Denmark was for children to bring in packed lunches from home. Copenhagen House of Food started with the goal of setting up five culinary schools within the public school system.
An aim of the project was to change the culture of packed lunches at schools, with the introduction of a kitchen to produce the meals. However, many schools were not ready for the change.
Rasmus Gøtsche, School food project leader at Copenhagen House of Food, was a teacher before he joined the organisation, which helped him with his work alongside teachers to introduce the concept.
“I understood the pressures on teachers and what their days were like, but I was also able to convince them of the educational need for the culinary kitchen both for the children taking part but also for the school as a whole,” Gøtsche told The Local.
“The children get to learn about food, hygiene, nutrition, sustainability and team work. They are doing it for real. If that isn’t getting them ready for adulthood, I don’t know what is,” he said.
Each youngster gets the chance to work in the kitchen for one week a year. Although this takes them out of the classroom for that time, the skills they learn are considered an integral part of the child’s education and participation is not an optional pursuit.
One of the most recently opened culinary school is at the newly built European School in the Carlsberg Byen area of the city. The European School is part of the public school system in Copenhagen but is atypical due to its high percentage of children from non-Danish backgrounds, and many who have lived in a variety of countries before moving to Denmark.
Hanne Schmidt, European School head of primary, is extremely proud to have the programme at her school.
“Children can learn so much from working in the kitchen here. The European School curriculum is very academic, so having the culinary school within our school means the pupils are able to learn extremely valuable practical skills. They learn how to cook and what a meal means,” Schmidt told The Local.
Photo: Melanie Haynes
“But wider issues are tackled. There is an emphasis on sustainability, and this is a very important aspect of the European School’s identity,” she added.
“The school is associated with the European Environment Agency and follows its agenda on climate change. Working in the kitchen and understanding about where food comes from, the issues around organic foods, food waste and sustainability gives the children a chance to see this in a very visible and practical way,” the head of primary continued.
“They also learn that other people are dependent on them and how important this is for both the individual and the group. They take so much pride in it and think ‘I did this for my friends’. It also helps the other children push their boundaries with the food they try and they understand more about how much effort has gone into the preparation. All the children in the school get access to a healthy meal in the middle of the day, which is essential for learning,” Schmidt said.
Anne Marie Boldsen Søndergaard is the kitchen leader at the European School.
“I was excited to start this kitchen with the European School. The school’s management is very positive about the importance of the culinary school and its impact on students’ learning. I am also able to be more creative with the food we prepare due to the cultural mix of the school,” Søndergaard told The Local.
“Not only do they work in the team preparing the lunches but they also, if they have worked hard, get the chance to learn about something specific — maybe a special cake recipe or learn to prepare and cook a lobster. They are often guided by what they are keen to learn about. I have worked in the culinary kitchens in Copenhagen since 2015 and I can say that it is the best job I have ever had,” she added.
The children and young people who work in the kitchen appear to share the adults’ enthusiasm.
Beatrice Orben, age 13, started at the European School after moving to Denmark from Boston in 2018. She has recently finished her time in the culinary school.
“There is no chance I would have been able to experience this in the US. Our school lunches there were like cardboard, literally burgers taken from the freezer in boxes and put straight into microwaves. It has been a lot of fun working in the kitchen and already half way through my week there I felt I have learned so much. I enjoy meeting people in the kitchen and it feels like I have a real job,” Orben told The Local.