If you’ve been following CBBC’s exciting new culinary series, Step Up to the Plate, you’ll have seen Allegra McEvedy in action – each episode, she helps a team of budding chefs to navigate a professional kitchen and ultimately deliver a service for a real restaurant-standard menu. Alongside her co-host Fred Sirieix, who looks after the front of house team, she mentors the kids and each week has the tough job of picking which youngster has impressed her the most.
Now at semi-final stage, the two winners will be announced in the final episode this Friday 30 August – but don’t worry, you can watch Step Up to the Plate on BBC iPlayer, too.
What has it been like to be involved with Step Up to the Plate?
To me, it was a bit of a dream job. I did love Junior Bake Off, but there’s so much around children and baking, and what I love about this show is that the children produce proper meals – starters, mains and puddings. I do love baking, but I’m a restaurant chef rather than a pastry chef, so it was really close to my heart.
What response have you had to the show so far?
I think it’s been more serious than people might have thought. The first episode is quite jokey, but by day two they have to deliver service. Just like in a real restaurant, people have to be fed!
Each two-day restaurant has its own theme, from an American diner to a Medieval menu – how did you decide on these?
The kids chose their own themes. We asked them what they’d like and they came up with all sorts of ideas – then the researchers decided from there. Some of the ideas we couldn’t do, like rollerskating…
What are some of your favourite moments from the show?
I like the bit in episode one where the kids eat mealworms and they try to be very grown-up about it. But actually, clearly, they just want to spit it out – which I can’t blame them for. But I think the final, where we name our winners, was my favourite part. I can’t tell you who it is, but seeing the expression on the winner’s face when we announced it is something I’ll treasure all my life. It just meant so much to them!
Apart from the winner, did you come across many kids who might pop up in your restaurant in years to come?
Definitely! There are a couple of lads who immediately come to mind. I would absolutely eat my apron if they’re not chefs in their future lives. And some of the girls were brilliantly strong, too, they were very organised and good at running the kitchen.
Do you think young people in general are encouraged enough to get into cooking?
I ask kids all the time whether they do cookery at school, and the answers are so wide ranging – most do it as part of the curriculum. At my daughter’s school, they cook once a term, and you can’t get any kind of rhythm going with that. I think the education system isn’t helping, but there’s also a parental responsibility to be around food and to show your children how things are made. We could all sit here and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for the schools to put it on the curriculum, but the most important thing is for everyone to spend a bit more time with their children in the kitchen.
What would you recommend to parents who want to nurture their child’s passion for cooking?
Pick things that your children want to cook, and don’t make them all puddings! Decide together what you want to eat for dinner and get them involved. I think it’s all about planning ahead. It sounds boring, but if you’re a busy working parent you have to plan cooking into your life. I’m a single mum, I’m self-employed and I work all the time – but there’s always time to do a bit of something with the children, even if it is just them standing next to me pressing out vegan burgers or whatever it is I’m doing that day.
What kitchen jobs do you get your children involved with?
Things like mashed potatoes are always really fun – something with a bit of texture and some sort of kinetic energy. They will love the masher going up and down and the pounding of it. Pressing out cookies or making pizza dough is a good place to start, too. Also recipes where you can see a change happening – that’s why meringues are a good one. You start off with egg whites and you end up with these hard, perfect white meringues. The alchemy of cooking is always interesting to kids.
What do you think kids will learn from Step Up to the Plate?
I hope it teaches them what a fun and intense place kitchens are to work. You get a real sense of team – you’re either in the restaurant crew or the kitchen crew – and being part of a team is very appealing to kids. Kids love team sports and working in the restaurant industry is basically a big team sport! Going through the intensity of service and then sharing high-fives afterwards – these are all things children can relate to, and hopefully will want to be a part of.
Step Up to the Plate is on CBBC at 9.30am and 4.30pm every day this week with the final on Friday 30 August, or you can watch it on BBC iPlayer.