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More than a hundred school chefs in Kyrgyzstan have completed express-training from a professional trainer Azat Borubaev

Only true professionals can prepare healthy school meals in a way that their visual appeal and taste will attract children. To train this kind of chefs is one of the objectives of the programme for the optimisation of school meals in Kyrgyzstan. Shukhrat Sharipov, regular supervisor of the School Cooks Contest and the Head of the Association of Chefs of the Kyrgyz Republic, underlines that the task of those who prepare food for schoolchildren is more complicated due to the fact that they not only follow the cooking technique, but also should take into account the availability of products when preparing the school menu in order to stay within the limited budget of the school. In general, there are many aspects to be taken into consideration regarding school meals. That is why, when summarising the outcomes of the final stage of the Best School Cook 2021 competition, Shukhrat noted the need for the on-site training sessions for the staff of school canteen in the regions.

In July and August, on the initiative of the SIFI and WFP, school chefs and kitchen staff in six regions of the country completed an express-training in basic cooking for school children. The trainings were conducted by Azat Borubaev, a true master of his profession who has his own cooking channel on YouTube with over 1,500 subscribers and, which is also important, teaches future chefs at vocational school No. 10 in Bishkek.

Considering that the duration of courses was limited (only two days), it was essential to identify the school chefs skills gaps in order to make these sessions as useful as possible. Each session began with a pre-test to identify the main knowledge gaps of the staff of school canteens. Azat Borubayev focused on the discussion of these particular issues.

Such approach brought positive results. While on the pre-test average score barely reached 50 per cent, and some did not even get ten per cent of the possible maximum score, after the theoretical orientation, the results became much better. No one scored below 24 points (one-third of the correct answers), and the average score among those tested was 45, or 56% of the maximum.

The main problem for most of the participants was a lack of experience in preparing hot meals. After all, they represented schools where a programme for optimization of school meals was launched only this year, one of the objectives of which is to provide all primary schoolchildren with a proper hot meal. Before that, the range of duties of the staff of school canteen was rather narrow: to heat water for tea and hand over pastry. It is understandable that requirements for candidates for this role were not very strict either - only one in eight of those taking part in the course had relevant professional education. Which means that this express training was therefore indispensable for the chefs.

Participants in the recent qualifying round of the Best School Cooks 2022 competition also attended Azat Borubaev's class to improve their knowledge. Two of the seven participants in the forthcoming final to be held in early November this year in Bishkek were also there: Aigul Akbaeva from Novopavlovsk School in Chui Region and Bumaira Dandybaeva from M. Kozubekov School in Talas Region.

Of course, there was more than just theory. The first day ended with practical task in the kitchen. Under the trainer’s supervision, chefs learned how to prepare dishes from the Cookbook for School Feeding in the Kyrgyz Republic, meanwhile receiving useful practical advice from Azat Borubaev. "All participants, regardless of their level of preparation, actively participated and showed interest in the lessons. This is not our first training, and the preparation level of school chefs is increasing every year. A common suggestion from the participants was that such on-site courses should be held every year," said the trainer.

On the second day of the express-training, all the participants took a practical exam. Everyone pulled out a card with a task and had to prepare a given dish on their own, observing the cooking technique and correctly calculating the amount of ingredients needed. This was particularly important to ensure that the child received a proper hot meal, and at the same time to be able to meet the very limited school budget. All participants had already achieved a high mark for the exam (with an average score of 46 out of a possible 50) and 16 out of 141 participants managed to achieve the maximum score.

Of course, the grades are important, but the most important thing is the knowledge that the participants have gained from the training. For example, the bread baked by Gulbarchyn Talasbaeva at her school from Mekan village, Chui Region has become much tastier. "Azat Borubaev showed me how to bake bread correctly according to the technique. Now I am doing everything as the trainer advised. Both children and teachers have appreciated my delicious bread - they ask for more. And it is very important that we were shown how to cook tasty, healthy and at the same time budget-friendly school meal, saving each gram," summed up Gulbarchyn Talasbaeva from the express-training session.