The view from here - Germany - Meet Germany's answer to Jamie

4th May 2012 at 01:00

For a six-course gourmet meal at Le Val d'Or, a restaurant in Stromberg, nestled amid the wine-growing hills of the Rhineland-Palatinate state, diners pay around EUR130 (#163;106). But there is no shortage of takers: it is Johann Lafer (pictured below), Germany's popular TV chef, who is wielding the knife in the kitchen.

Soon, however, pupils at Gymnasium am Romerkastell, a grammar school in the nearby town of Bad Kreuznach, will be able to sample the Michelin-starred chef's offerings at significantly lower prices (EUR3 a go) when Lafer takes over the new school canteen later this year in a pilot project. "There's constant talk about improving school food - I want to do something about it," he says.

And according to a recently published survey, there is plenty of work to be done. Nutritionists tested 200 of the nation's school canteens over a five-year period, with unappetising results. More than 90 per cent scored poorly on hygiene and food quality: too much sugar, fatty foods and meat; not enough fish, salad and vegetables.

School canteens are indispensable now, since many grammar school pupils have lessons until early evening, battling with huge workloads dictated by bulging curricula. This is because grammar-school courses are being shortened following a raft of reforms in recent years.

Like Jamie Oliver in his legendary Jamie's School Dinners, Lafer, himself the father of two teenage children, knows he faces an uphill task. But whereas Jamie battled with obdurate kitchen staff and parents, and pupils up in arms, Lafer sees his main challenge elsewhere. "I've got 180 pupils signed up for meals after the summer," he explains. "But I need a few hundred more to break even. Now that's what I call a challenge." Even if his gamble pays off, Lafer still faces start-up losses of EUR150,000 in his first year.

A true restaurateur, he knows that to attract the clientele, you need ambience and flair as well as good food. With a team of helpers, he has designed a canteen interior with separate areas for older pupils, including sofas, coffee bars and internet cafes. Pupils can order food online or via smartphone apps.

Essentially, though, it is all about food - and Lafer can look back on a lifetime of experience. "I grew up on a farm in the Austrian province of Styria," he says. "We produced everything we ate ourselves - it was all natural."

Meanwhile, D-Day for him will come after the summer. In this respect Lafer, a keen helicopter pilot in his spare time, has both feet firmly on the ground: "The biggest challenge for me will be getting pupils to say, 'Hey, he's good. Let's go and eat at his place.'"

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