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What's Cooking community project at The Russet

Hackney Downs Studios' The Russet cafe hosted a series of What's Cooking workshops for young people from Hackney's City Academy School spring 2012 and 2013.

The cookery based workshops inspire young people through hands-on learning experiences, giving real life skills to school children with behavioural difficulties, learning difficulties and other challenges in their lives. The workshops offer vital experience and a supportive atmosphere to help them succeed in an environment outside of the classroom.

The course involves a month of afternoons at the cafe for 3 hours of talking, preparing, baking and sharing food. The session were led by Lucy Moorehead and Bea Stevenson (founders of What's Cooking) with a group of volunteers, the young people found themselves spending time with creatives, chefs and baristas, socialising with adults in their neighbourhood whom they would never have normally come into contact with.

Each session, led by a guest chef, the group experimented with different recipes, flapjacks, pizzas and savoury muffins being both popular and winning selections. The sessions encouraged young people to talk about their favourite foods from different cultures and explore what it means to eat healthily as well as broaden their approach and attitude to preparing food. The workshops provided a safe space to experiment and it was remarkable to observe the students growing in self-confidence and giving positive feedback about other members of the group.

At the end of the course all participants take over The Russet cafe and sell their creations to the public to celebrate their success. This allowed them to take on responsibility of managing all elements of the job, from welcoming visitors to working the tills. Working to tight time constraints and delivering a fantastic customer experience, saw all the students visibly glowing with pride as they put their new skills and confidence into action.

Eat Work Art was able to introduce one of the course participants, Mariah, to friend of Hackney Downs Studios Lizzy Bassham, a local baker and entrepreneur who has since set up Lizzy’s On The Green in Stoke Newington.

Co-founder of People's Kitchen and Head Chef at The Russet, Steve Wilson is a great advocate of the What's Cooking project, believing strongly in communal meals as bonding and unifying for the community. Wilson says:

Food is one of our primary sources of connection to each other, to the earth and to our health, so it is important that we nurture that connection as wisely as possible. It is often over the table that plans are hatched, friendships are cemented and romances begin.

The Russet are currently looking for facilitators for a new cookery club 'Come Bake With Me', if you have the enthusiasm, chef skills and experience working with young people, please get in touch with Louise: louise@eatworkart.com.

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