Behind the Scenes at a Vegetarian School

By Toshala Elliott
While it is not widely advertised, Ficino School and Preschool provide vegetarian food for their pupils and staff. All food is prepared from fresh ingredients on the school premises, including the bread, which is baked
daily. Food ranges from vegan to lacto-vegetarian, and food from all sorts of cultures is presented, and is prepared considering the dierent food intolerances, allergies and religious dietary requirements that some
individual children have. And how do I know this? I am the chef!
Hello, I’m Toshala. Previously I was head chef and owner of The Blue Bird Café in Auckland’s Dominion Road and have been vegetarian for more than 30 years, ever since joining the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Auckland. From preparing café food and short-order cooking, when I started at Ficino, the change to making bulk food for children was a complete change in genre and was a bit of a culture shock. This was several years ago, and I have it mostly down now, luckily, as the school roll has almost doubled since then,
if you include the Preschool.
Every day for morning tea, the children are supplied with fruit, milk, and crackers and cheese. At least once a week they have a sweet treat – like a cookie, cake or slice (with hot chocolate in Terms 2 and 3!) – and, once a week also, grilled cheese (or alternative) on toast. For lunch they have fruit, fresh bread, salad, cheese, a main item du jour (which is optional – they can make themselves a sandwich instead if they like), yoghurt, honey, milk, butter and a variety of spreads, dried fruits and nuts* and tamaried sun7ower seeds. Seasonal produce is used and the menu re7ects this – for instance, in the warmer terms (1 and 4) the children have fresh, warm homemade buns as the main item on Mondays to ;ll with whatever they choose which, in the cooler terms, becomes smaller buns and hot soup.
Pasta is a big favourite – it doesn’t matter what type either (spaghetti, penne pasta, spiral basil pesto pasta, macaroni cheese, fettuccine alfredo, lasagne… the list goes on) as is baked potatoes, anything with rice (like, Indian curries, Thai curries, sweet and sour veggies, sushi), spring rolls, vegetarian sausage rolls, but the top of the list goes to (equally) roasted vegetables, pizza and nachos. The goal is to expose the children to as much variety as possible and – as one grateful Year 8 Mum said once, “Thanks to Ficino, my sons have been exposed to a wide variety of dierent foods and will now eat anything!”
  • * There is a nut-free table for those allergic to nuts.
    It takes a vegetarian to know how to properly prepare vegetarian food (and  to order the right kind of cheeses, yoghurts, etc) and the chef immediately prior to me was a talented chef from the Hare Krishnas, so – under the school chefs – Ficino has been somewhat of a unifying place for dierent vegetarian groups.
    Ficino School has been in Auckland since 1997 (the Preschool since 2016) and, following the school’s underlying philosophy of mindfulness and self- discipline, has always provided vegetarian morning teas and lunches for the children and staff. These have always been prepared onsite in a commercial kitchen that is registered and operated under a professional food control plan that is regulated by the Auckland Council and Ministry of Primary Industries, just like any other professional kitchen.
    We provide a wide range of salad items (more than the recommended 5+ veggies!).jpg