Britain can’t cook? How one Islington charity is working to reverse the trend
Sizzling pans of chilli con carne, boiling rice and ovens filled with banana muffins, that’s what’s for dinner today. The cooks: a group of eager amateurs attending cookery lessons
In the 21st century, sandwiches, soups and ready-made meals all too often seem to represent the average British dining experience.
Some argue that their hectic schedules do not leave them with enough time, others blame their fussy kids and some say associated expenses prevent them from cooking.
But might the real problem be that people don’t know how to cook anymore, and are afraid to try?
A survey by the Good Food Channel found that one in six British women struggles with cooking. The Independent reported that a survey by studentbeans.com found out that, among university students, one in 10 never cook for themselves, while a quarter splash out on takeaway every week.
But there is hope for people living in Islington, where the Central Street Cookery School is offering cookery classes for community members. The school is part of St Luke’s Trust, a charity that operates in Bunhill Ward as well as pockets of Hackney and Clerkenwell.
The school turns two this April and currently runs four projects including a family cookery workshop which provides budget cookery sessions and advice to local families on low income.
Sofia Larrinua-Craxton, the manager of the cookery school, says the programme is designed to replicate a home scenario, a “ready, steady, cook” type of experience that is not very strict. Classes take place every Wednesday and cooked meals are shared with everyone afterwards.
For those interested in more than the average cooking experience, there are additional classes in the evening, where a a chef will provide training in knife skills, wine tasting and more.
With all the cookery shows on television, people have come to think of cooking as a complex affair, a mindset that Larrinua-Craxton hopes to change.
“Cooking is fun, it is not scary,” she says. “We use it as a vehicle for integrating the community, a way to get people who are socially isolated to meet other people in their community, especially the elderly, young mothers and those who may be ill so they can reconnect with life.”
Besides building friendships, the programme incorporates dishes from different countries to allow people to learn about other communities, thereby creating an understanding and tolerance for other cultures.
In the last couple of years, concern has been rife about the cooking habits in the country, with famous chefs offering their recipes to get people back into the kitchen.
Larrinua-Craxton says that in her experience, “with a lot of people who don’t know how to cook it is not for lack of interest, rather they are time-poor or scared”.
Besides learning about healthy eating and cooking, there are other benefits to attending the cookery classes. “We teach them how to avoid wasting food, we show them various ways to save food like making the right measurements, and how they can preserve whatever is not eaten.” The important thing is a willingness to learn.
Like all businesses the school needs money to run and, being a charity, it relies on grants and donations from well-wishers. Other financing comes from money made from renting out the kitchen space to companies and hosting corporate events.
For now, the battle to get England back into the kitchen continues one family at a time, through programmes like this one at the Central Street Cookery School.
Classes at the school take place Wednesdays at 11am for adults, parents with children come in at 4pm. The 7pm slot is open to everyone. Sessions are discounted for locals costing £2.50 a session or £10 for five sessions.