Nice's mayor Christian Estros at the ceremonial opening of the central kitchen at the end of August 2019.
"Zéro Plastique!" is the leitmotif of the municipal central kitchen in Nice. It serves 26,500 children in 99 school canteens and 27 municipal crèches. But the city can afford even more. An outstanding project.
As a favorite address for fans of France, the picturesque city on the Côte d'Azur does not take the issue of sustainability lightly. And with its new building project, it has committed itself to the French government's ambitious climate targets - yes, it goes even further. The new central production facility, built with €32 m of investment and officially commissioned at the end of August 2019 after two years of construction, has a capacity of up to 30,000 meals per day. This means that the company is well prepared for the next three decades. There is also a kitchen especially for children with allergies. A patisserie. And a learning trail with an aroma garden.
On the occasion of the inauguration of the central kitchen, Nice's mayor Christian Estrosi, who is politically associated with the conservative camp, declared that the ban on plastic in the entire production and distribution process was five years ahead of the requirements of the so-called "Loi EGALIM". The law, which was passed in October 2018, is primarily dedicated to the relationship between agro-culture and the food industry as well as to healthy and sustainable nutrition. Among other things, it requires the French community catering industry to refrain from using plastic packaging of any kind by 1 January 2025 at the latest.
In 2011, after 30 years, the city took direct responsibility for school supplies back into its own hands. Why this unconventional step? Ultimately, the concern for the healthy nutrition of the children – "le bien manger", as it is better known in France.
Especially in view of the growing problem of obesity at an early age. According to the initiators' point of view, the quality of the products served – whether organic production, seal of origin or quality label, regional origin, generally the prioritisation of short procurement channels – can be guaranteed better and more efficiently in the direct way. The solution also makes sense economically.
Mind you: the project does not have to generate a profit!
Central kitchen Nice: Project with lighthouse character
It soon became clear that the current central kitchen, which has been in operation since 1987, would no longer be able to meet the growing demands in future. The number of meals served annually alone rose from just under 3 million to almost 3.8 million between 2008 and 2016. Hardly any room for manoeuvre upwards. In addition, qualitative demands – such as the strictly separate preparation of meals for children with allergies or metabolic diseases
– could no longer be optimally met in view of the limited capacity of the 30-year-old central kitchen.
So a new central production facility was to be built. The 13,000 square meter site belongs to the city.
At just under 5,400 square meters – about the size of a medium-sized soccer field – the new, 100 percent self-financed central kitchen is twice as large as the previous one
. For Nice, this is one of the most important municipal projects in recent times, confirms Christian Estrosi.
New standard for France
The aim was to set standards nationwide – in terms of food quality, sustainability and working conditions
for the 105 employees. Among other things, most jobs benefit from natural light. The fact that the new central kitchen does completely without the use of plastic is unprecedented in France. Throughout the entire process
, from the production of food to regeneration in the schools and crèches, plastic containers of any kind are taboo
Organisations like "Cantine sans plastique France" are full of praise. "A brave and ambitious decision!" Their main concern is the welfare of their children. Some plastics, although still permitted today, could be quite uncomfortable for the human organism in contact with food, the organisation fears, in agreement with quite a few experts. But Estrosi also receives applause for his initiative from the camp of environmental and climate protectors.
Stainless steel or degradable
Specifically, only containers made of stainless steel or degradable cellulose and corn starch are used for storage, preparation and packaging, transport and subsequent preparation of the dishes on site. In addition, sustainable materials such as stainless steel or glass are used in the school canteens and cribs
for cutlery, glasses and plates.
Nice is by no means satisfied with dispensing with plastic. Increased regional sourcing, more organic goods, more in-house production based on fresh products – the new central kitchen is also designed to meet this binding requirement of the "Loi Egalim". Up to one ton of fresh vegetables per day can be processed, and seven cooling tunnels are available. Seven employees with handicaps are at work peeling and carving in the "Légumerie".
The warehouse logistics can handle up to twelve tons of goods delivered to eleven docks daily. There is 750 square metres of storage space with more than 580 square metres of refrigeration and freezing capacity to store fresh vegetables, meat and fish, pre-cut vegetables, sous-vide cooked and dairy products (eggs, cheese, butter) as well as frozen goods, in addition to dry products at various temperature levels. After all, convenience is essential, even though the proportion of dishes made from fresh ingredients is constantly increasing.
The new patisserie laboratory contributes home-made creations that do without industrial primary products, preservatives and additives as far as possible. Two ovens, each with 20 trays, not only produce desserts such as Carrot Cake or chocolate coconut cake. But also pizza or vegetable tart.
In a 180 square metre separate kitchen, which is also new, dishes are created in order to provide the growing number of children with various allergies better and safer than before. "This is unique in France," explains Emmanuelle Gantié, spokeswoman of the municipality. "360 affected children in our schools, kindergartens and crèches receive tailor-made menus every day." Gantié adds: "In addition to the 26,000 meals served every day in the refectories, more than 200,000 meals a year are served during school holidays and on Wednesdays – school holidays for the youngest, shorter for the older pupils – in the Accueils de Loisirs (leisure centres)".
The cost of quality
It would be nice, but the abandonment of plastic in favour of environmentally friendly materials is not for free. Nice estimates the additional costs of running the plant to be around €550,000 per year.
Official information has it, that €300,000 euros alone will be spent on the procurement of trays made of cellulose. This corresponds to an additional expenditure of 80 percent compared to the previous situation
. An additional €240,000 will also be spent on newly created jobs, eight full-time equivalents. Less use of convenience products requires more processing effort in the kitchen, logically. And what about the suppliers? Are they going along with Zéro Plastique? They haven't got that far yet. At least the changeover to increasingly regional producers and more freshly delivered raw materials is ensuring that less and less plastic ends up on the ramp of the central kitchen.
Chef with a mission
Responsible for the culinary implementation of the school catering programme is Sébastien Mahuet, a multi-award-winning top chef, responsible for the "Cantines Nicoises" since May 2017 and known to the pupils as "Chef Ratatouille". "Since 2011 – when there was only one organic meal a month – the proportion of organic products on kids' plates has risen to around 40 percent," Mahuet explains. "Ingredients such as rice and noodles, potatoes or semolina are 100 percent organic, as are our bread and almost all dairy products. Not organic, but with the Label Rouge label are almost all meat and poultry products used. The label stands for guaranteed French origin."
Aiming at education and appreciation
Providing the kids with better food is one thing. Making them aware of good nutrition and appreciation of food is the other. A first project of the city of Nice two years ago was about fruit. In five schools, more than 840 pupils made numerous suggestions on how to prevent fruit that was served at lunchtime but not eaten from being thrown away. The result: the pupils can now choose between small and large portions.
Emmanuelle Gantié: "The purchase volume for all our school canteens is 238 tons of fruit per year. Thanks to this measure, 7.2 tons less are thrown away each year than before."
Next chapter: bread. In France, bread is part of every meal. This time around 1,200 children participated in selected schools. They threw their leftover bread into containers provided – clear evidence of wastefulness. Thanks to the campaign, the amount of bread left over fell by 17 percent! The next action is already underway and teaches the pupils how valuable water is.
Zero plastic, more high-quality products, a return to in-house production and the kids involved to avoid waste: literally a good school example.