When most people think of early childhood education and care, it is of children playing and learning under the watchful eyes of educators. Our “Chef Showcase” highlights a significant contributor to children’s wellbeing and education within our centres, a role also referred to as the “childcare cook”.

Planning and preparing meals, cleaning and cooking are significant parts of our chefs’ roles, but they are more than a cook in a kitchen. Our chefs are incredibly talented and creative people who collaborate with each other, their teams and the local community to enrich children’s experiences, health and lives.

Being a trained chef in early childhood education and care has its perks. You are in charge of your own kitchen – the master chef of your centre. You plan seasonal menus working with the Australian Government’s feed Australia platform, designed for children’s nutrition.

In our Chef Showcase, we asked our chefs from Petit ELJ Richmond, Petit ELJ Hamilton and Petit ELJ Caloundra about:

  • How they came to work as a chef in early childhood education and care
  • How their role helps children to learn and grow
  • What they do on a typical day
  • What other passions they share with children at their centre

Chef Trisette who is more than just a childcare cook, hands out food for a science experiment to a group of toddlers sitting around a table. 

Introducing Trisette, Chef at Petit ELJ Richmond

Trisette came to work as the chef at Petit ELJ Richmond after learning about the opportunity from her husband, who works at another Petit ELJ centre. “As a chef in the  early childhood education and care environment, we can:

  • Teach children to help themselves
  • Encourage them to experience different flavours
  • Introduce them to scientific concepts
  • Promote life skills
  • Encourage bonding
  • Enhance fine motor skills.”

Trisette’s typical day cooking in early childhood education and care

Trisette’s typical day starts by interacting with the children in the family grouping room where she learns their names and gets feedback about the previous day’s food. “The children are super honest and their feedback is priceless.”

At 8 am, Trisette begins preparing and serving morning tea. “If we have a delivery, I put them away and fill out some of the forms.”

Between 9 am and 11 am, Trisette washes the dishes from morning tea and begins to prepare lunch.

“At 11 am I help the educators serve lunch to the Baby Boulevard, Haven Place and Darling Drive studios.”

At 11.45 am, Trisette then visits the Treasure Cove and Blossom Hill studios to help with serving lunch.

Afterwards, there is the cleaning and documenting before starting the afternoon tea which is served from 2 pm.

Before Trisette finishes her day at 4 pm, there’s a sweep, mop and clean up, including unpacking the trollies and dishes.

Making time to share other passions

“There are times when I go and interact with the rooms where we sing nursery rhymes and play. We also have a cooking day on Thursday where we either do experiments or make yummy food.”

“Last Thursday, we did the Ice Cream Experiment where we supported children with:

  • Measuring
  • Following a recipe
  • Learning about cause and effect
  • Practising patience with food preparation time.”

“We also do some gardening from time to time and we share the harvest with our families.”

 David instructs children on making sushi rolls in a cooking experience. Our chef helps a child prepare the rice while two other children squash rice on seaweed sheets.

Introducing David, Chef at Petit ELJ Hamilton

“I started my career as a five-star cook, and before I came to work at Petit ELJ Hamilton, I was working for a small venue at the airport. The position of chef caught my attention as I was interested in working with children. It is very different from what I used to do, and I enjoy the work-life balance.”

David sees his role as helping children to learn and grow by creating nutritious meals to support children’s health both physically and mentally. In March 2022, he was recognised as Petit ELJ’s Exceptional Team Member for sharing his love for food, teaching children about healthy eating choices, and building their confidence through cooking experiences.

David typically arrives 15 minutes earlier for his 7:30 am shift so that he can comfortably be ready in the kitchen for when he starts to prepare morning tea.

David has a garden bed at the front of the centre where he picks fresh herbs for use in cooking. The children often come to help, and he takes his time to say hello and engage them, listening to their ideas. David is very popular with the children, who fist-bump and high-five him when he visits the studios.

“I do cooking experiences with the children as well. Although I’m not an educator, I interact and engage with the children, encouraging them to try new experiences and learn new skills like cooking and gardening.”

“Last month, we did weekly cooking sessions with the kindergarten children which was about preparing their own lunch box. Every week we did something different like how to make a sandwich, wrap or pringles, and they actually prepared the food themselves. We did sushi rolls too and it was a really enjoyable experience for the children and myself.”

“I also help the children collect food scraps for their worm farm and support them in looking after their garden out the back where they grow fruit and vegetables. When it is time to harvest, we do it together.”

David enjoys supporting the families with cooking and gardening tips in the centre’s monthly newsletter and often tempts parents with special treats during morning drop-offs.

Chef Rebecca, believes her role is more than just cooking but involves teaching children about nutrition. She crouches on the ground to harvest a lettuce that she and the children have been growing in their centre's garden.

Introducing Rebecca, Chef at Petit ELJ Caloundra

“I have been a chef for 20 years and have always been in restaurants including my own, which is when I got engaged and fell pregnant with my first daughter. My husband is also a chef and how I wanted to raise my family with both of us continuing to work hospitality hours was not sustainable.”

“In 2018, when my daughter was a 1-year-old, we relocated from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast, and I began looking for work again. She started child care here at Petit ELJ Caloundra while I found a job cooking at another early learning childhood education and care service. I worked there for three months before moving over to where my daughter was enrolled.”

Rebecca has been working at Petit ELJ Caloundra ever since. Her daughter is now six and she also has a three-year-old. “Working in early childhood education and care has been so humbling and convenient for mum-life.”

More than just a childcare cook

“I believe my role as a chef is more than just cooking for the children. It also involves teaching them, such as through the foods I choose which instils a sense of nutrition which we should prioritise for our health and wellbeing. Not only for our body but also for the planet too.”

“Serving a wholefood menu daily gives the children a large variety of nutrients essential for optimum growth and development. It assists with the right kinds of energy to play and grow, concentrate, feel happier and get good rest too.”

“When I begin work each day I check over the cleanliness of the kitchen from the afternoon before and make sure I have a fresh and clean workspace to begin my day. I then prepare morning tea of seasonal fruit platters served alongside fresh milk if desired.”

“I then prepare and cook lunch, a rotating menu created to correspond with the seasons. I am always striving to make healthy meals appealing but also deeply nourishing for the children with a large variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and proteins with no additives, preservatives, refined sugars or inflammatory fats.”

“After lunch, I take a break and then clean the kitchen before preparing afternoon tea which is either refrigerated or left on the trolleys ready for serving. Then, I pack down the kitchen and either go and tend to our vegetable patch and yard plants or check and place any orders before finishing for the day.”

Caretaker of plants and vegetable gardens

“I take care of the plants and veggie gardens at the centre which the children love to help with and talk about with me. I believe it is something that all humans should have a hand in, especially while young.”

“It is important to grow and see where real food comes from, especially given the amount of non-nutritional foods consumed on a daily basis. Understanding what foods are better for our body and the planet is one of the biggest life lessons we can learn.”

“I recently replanted a patch in the kindy yard with fresh herbs and strawberry plants and explained to the children that it is important for the plants to be cared for and watered each day especially on those hot summer days if we want to see them grow happily for us. The children assist by watering the garden each day with their little watering cans.”

Chef Terrance inspires the next generation of chefs with his children's cooking experience. Children look on as he mixes in a big silver bowl.

Inspire the next generation of chefs with Petit Early Learning Journey

Are you passionate about sharing your knowledge of food and skills as a chef with the most honest and youngest food critics at your table? At Petit ELJ, our teams work together in promoting healthy eating, nutrition, sustainability, gardening, life skills and more to children.

We believe in working collaboratively, sharing ideas and listening to the children and their families about what matters most to them. At Petit ELJ children always come first.

Apply for a career with Petit ELJ.