When I arrive at Ore Community Centre, the first thing I am aware of is the tantalising smell of fried onion, herbs and garlic coming from a large hall which has been transformed into a busy working kitchen.
Within the hall a cooking session if in full flow with people busy chopping vegetables, forming mince into spicy kebabs and calling for more ingredients.
This is the Bags of Taste project a free scheme aimed at teaching people to produce delicious food on a tight budget, but more importantly inspiring them to cook more and re-examine their relationship with food.
Bags of Taste is a not for profit organisation that has changed the way cookery classes are delivered by working with people in, or at risk of, food poverty to improve their diets, by teaching them to cook great recipes costing less than £1 a portion.
Classes show students where to source healthy, inexpensive ingredients and give tips on reducing food waste. People are also taught knife skills.
The hands on lessons run for four weeks at a time and are completely free to anyone wishing to join.
If you tough that cooking on such a tight budget would result in eating boring, bland food then think again. Favourites here include an exotic peanut stew from Timbukto, fish curry, Tuscan ribollita, chicken jambalaya, Singapore noodles, ginger broccoli and Chinese chicken.
Savanna Karr, who runs the classes, explained: “The idea is to come up with dishes that people may consider ordering from a take-away or restaurant and giving them the skills to produce it at home.”
One of the first things I note is the cross section and age range of people cooking. A mother and son are cooking together and a young couple are busy preparing food. As well as busy mums learning new kitchen and food tips, there is a good number of men of all ages getting hands-on with the cooking.
Seventeen year old student Charlie Bruton, who has been cooking alongside his mum, explained: “I came along because I wanted to learn to cook something nice for my girlfriend. Now I am cooking at home more than I ever did. This has really given me confidence and inspired me.
“I used to think that cooking was difficult and an exact science, but now I know that if it tastes good then it works. I would recommend this course to anyone.
“It has also taught me a lot about sourcing good ingredients and supporting small businesses.”
Savannah said: “Cooking on a budget doesn’t have to be boring, we try to teach people about spices and the best way to buy them. Often it is more economical to buy spices in larger quantities from a small Asian grocer than a small jar from a supermarket.
“We get some great feedback here. One of the course members cooked Saag Paneer for her Indian friends and they were really impressed.
“The courses are not about dumbing down food or preaching but giving people the skills to cook exciting tasty food on a budget. By sticking to a budget and cutting down on waste, people are able to save £1,400 a year on their food bill.”
Some people who take the course go on to be volunteers for the project, sharing their skills with others.
Volunteer Suzanne Jones said: “It is very rewarding to enable other people and it has changed my perceptions due to the wide variety of people I have met from all backgrounds.
The courses are also great for providing social interaction. After the shared experience of cooking. Everyone then sits down together to enjoy a meal.
After everyone has cooked and eaten together they provide a bag with everything they need to recreate the meals for four people again at home.
The courses take place on Friday mornings from 11am - 1.30pm.
Savannah said: “Our model is really a positive intervention which has proven to result in exceptional long term behaviour change, with the added bonus of reducing household debt significantly.
“If you know of anyone who would benefit from either volunteering or participating as a student then they can get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org or 07880926231.”
For more information on the Bags of Taste project visit www.bagsoftaste.org.
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