Whiz kids

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Nicole Pisani, chef and author of Magic Soup, reflects on a day giving young marketeers a masterclass in soup-making

Words: Nicole Pisani

On a cold but sunny winter morning, I arrived at Borough Market excited to meet the Young Marketeers from local schools. Our mission was to make soup which would be sold out in minutes.

This is the second year I’ve been a part of this programme. I enjoy helping the children develop their recipe ideas using unwanted vegetables from the Market and turning it into soups that look and taste delicious. I think supermarkets could learn a lot from them!

This clever programme is the brainchild of Stephanie Wood, founder of School Food Matters, which campaigns for fresh, sustainable food in schools. I met Stephanie when I first joined Gayhurst Community School as their head chef, after working in restaurants for many years.

Nicole and Ben teaching children to make soup

Reducing food waste 
Last year I was lucky enough to have Raymond, my sous chef from Gayhurst, with me. This year the universe answered me again and I happened to be contacted by a childhood friend. Ben is a chef and has now graduated in food sustainability, and he was brilliant helping the kids forage for ingredients around the Market and explaining the importance of reducing food waste—so a big thank you to Ben.

Today was a practice day for 7th February, when the young marketeers will not only make soup, but sell it in the Market during the busy lunchtime period.

First, the groups were split into two: while one group made soup with me, the other group baked bread in one of my favourite places—Bread Ahead. I always look forward to the first group returning with their spoils. This time it was beautifully soft ciabatta.

School child taking part in soup workshop

Foraging ground
We explained to the children why using bruised veg to make soup was good from both a sustainability and economic point of view (in other words, that they would make a bigger profit); that we need to take care of our planet and look at what is around us to eat, in tune with the seasons and what is available, rather than expect all different types of fruit and veg all year round. We described how many of the best restaurants in the world now grow or forage nearby for dishes on their menu and joked that they were lucky to have Borough Market as their foraging ground.

Back at the Cookhouse, placing a big stock pot in the middle of the table, we asked all the children to put their vegetable peelings and herb stalks in so that we could make an aromatic stock for all the soups.

Looking at a big pile of onions, one of the children had the bright idea of making French onion soup. To make the soup, we softened 800g sliced white onions in 80g unsalted butter, then added 1 tsp of sugar to help the onions caramelise. We left it to cook for 10 mins, then sifted in 1 tbsp plain flour, stirred in 15ml of Worcester sauce, and added 1 litre of vegetable stock. We left the whole thing to cook for about half an hour.

Children learning to make soup

Homemade ciabatta
Traditionally, French onion soup is served with melted gruyère croutons and made with wine and beef stock, but our vegetarian version worked very well and was really delicious with rosemary croutons, which we made with the children’s homemade ciabatta.

The children were so happy at the end of the morning. They gained knowledge, a few cooking tips and knife techniques, had a great walk around Borough Market, and enjoyed doing some dramatic tossing pretending to be a chef in a busy restaurant. The result was a great soup they can make to sell at the Market come 7th February, and new skills that will serve them for life.