Way back pre-pandemic, one of my fellow Dames d’Escoffier (|LDE) put me in touch with the Luminary Bakery and we talked about organising for me to teach some bread baking masterclasses there. Then – lockdown.
The power of cooking
During the afore-mentioned lockdown I was on a panel for a Dames’ d’Escoffier webinar on Kitchen Confidence: reinvention through cooking, all about how learning a new skill, specifically cooking and baking in this case, can increase confidence and self- assurance and offer a range of skills that go way beyond just putting food on the table.
Hosted by the fabulous Sheila Dillon, head of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme and a fellow member of LDE, Rachel from Luminary Bakery, Lucy, founder of Food Behind Bars and I talked about the many benefits of teaching people to cook and what we had learnt ourselves through cooking.
It was a really interesting, wide-ranging discussion. Rachel and I agreed again that as soon as the Luminary School was back in action, we would get those masterclasses scheduled.
Finally the school was open and I took a week off the day job and headed over to Chalk Farm to the Luminary school to teach some amazing women how to bake. This was part of the Luminary’s Employability Programme – a life changing programme for trainees who have experienced violence against women and girls.
The women learn transferrable skills, such as time-management and stress reduction, baking skills, and life skills, such as healthy communication, how to budget and resilience. They also become part of a strong network and a supportive community – that was really clear from my time teaching there.
I taught a different group of trainees each day. I decided we would bake bagels, a rustic loaf and focaccia – different types of dough and different skills. I taught the techniques and the recipes and we talked about how cooking involves so many elements: literacy – reading the recipe and interpreting the instructions, numeracy (measuring ingredients, halving or doubling a recipe), science (nutrition, the effect of cold and hot environments) and even a bit of art, when you present or photograph the finished dish.
Some of the trainees had baked quite often bread before and they had all done some basic bread baking during their programme, but these recipes were a bit more complex. All my trainees rose to the challenge and worked really hard – I packed a lot into the sessions, as I really wanted the women to have a chance to bake some very different breads.
It was so rewarding, seeing the trainees confidence build over the day, helping each other, asking great questions and producing some excellent bread.
It was an inspiring week for me and a real honour to be invited to be part of this programme that helps women get back on their feet with the skills to create a better future for themselves. And the feedback was lovely: “Your input to their learning is truly invaluable”.