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Byron Shire
September 25, 2022

Educating the palate; feeding the imagination

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Emmuna (pictured), one of the students well trained in the art of coffee and service thanks to Shearwater canteen.
Emmuna one of the students well trained in the art of coffee and service thanks to the Shearwater canteen.

Story & photos Matthew Michaelis

Eating a nicely prepared, cooked and served meal out, these days, is as easy as filling your car with petrol.

The luxury of choice, quality and freshness combined with a healthy ingredient base is available in spades in the northern rivers to us grown-ups. But how do those choices and ingredients look when you’re a school student corralled in a playground with a canteen providing your morning tea or lunch alternative for the day?

As a parent of five, this question has required an answer at different junctures in my life over the past thirty-three years. After all, you’re not at school any more and can eat anything you please, but I believe it’s the choices you are offered earlier in your life that impact on your adult life.

It’s when we leave school and we’re feeling like a snack that the co-option of years of canteen food, reward foods and instant gratification can steer the inner child to the habitually wrong foods.

The introduction of 24-hour streaming food information in social media and the likes has created in many parents a concern, if not a guilt, about exactly what we have on offer for our little chilis. Add to the concern the ever-increasing dietary considerations such as dairy, nuts, wheat and gluten allergies, and it’s a wonder any parent sleeps at all.

Wherever you and your children sit in relation to food and diet, over the next weeks I’ll be bringing some love to those hard-working custodians who spend their hours feeding the imaginations of our children’s small and impressionable appetites.

I’ll feature the canteen operators and volunteers that are doing more than their share to bring colour and health into school kitchens and an education for our children’s palates.

Tony Bruce is a parent and a chef – the perfect combo for a canteen operator.
Tony Bruce is a parent and a chef – the perfect combo for a canteen operator.

Sheer choice

My wife and I moved into the region more than a decade ago. Apart from writing on the industry, I’ve been involved in many hospitality businesses and know intimately of the sometimes torturous hours involved.

When someone suggested I should put up my hand to run a school canteen in a local Steiner school, at first I thought they were insane for suggesting it. After a while we thought of it as an opportunity to bring good food to kids while having weekends and school hols off.

It ended up being a gourmet cafe on ‘roids’. Shearwater Steiner School’s canteen menu and pricing rivals any cafe around and continues to sit me on my bum with awe.

The original custodians and creators of such a fabulous and energetic school canteen were a couple who were passionate about good school food.

Ron and Michelle Kleindich are now known at markets and festivals for their mobile coffee stalls. Ron and Michelle gave us the impetus to grow this concept and eventually pass it on to its current custodian, Tony Bruce.

Good ideas can be honed and Tony, being a parent, a chef and a surfer, is the perfect combination to operate a school canteen. The winners at Shearwater are the students and teachers.

From Monday till Friday there’s a daily special that includes things such as Thai curries, stir-fried noodles served in immense paella pans.

Every day your child (or you) can choose from Japanese nori rolls, healthy salads, wraps and rolls, Turkish sandwiches, house-made pies and muffins, lemon myrtle leaves steeped in water and apple juice, or perhaps head for the juice and smoothie bar for a watermelon and strawberry or apple and mint frappe.

For the adults, good well-made coffee and beverages are here with students trained in the art of serving your cup of cha. The choices really go on and on and where students are given such variety they’re in turn given a sense of self-esteem.

It’s the food and drinks that we as adults can buy and take for granted that, when available, educate young palates for a lifetime of good and healthy choices in food.

(Next week, Shearwater educates students on recycling and sustainability and Mullumbimby High’s fabulous canteen.)



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