Give a man a meal, feed him for a day. Teach him how to cook ... you can guess the rest
Supper clubs have never been more popular across the UK, and now a supper club with a social conscience has hit London.
The enterprise, which works with people who are at risk of or have experienced homelessness, has launched a pop-up diner where all meals are prepped and cooked by a team of trainee chefs.
Beyond Food Foundation is headed up by chef Simon Boyle and teaches vulnerable people about food and the art of cooking to help them gain meaningful employment. So far, they've trained more than 76 students in their kitchens.
The most recent trainees put their skills to the test in the kitchen with a dinner party for 50 people – and we went along.
The event was hosted in the Brigade restaurant space in London Bridge and was masterminded by two chefs from Etch Restaurant in Sussex; the winner of MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 Steven Edwards, and his business partner, Josh Stanzl.
The lads showed how they add their flair for humour into their local and sustainable menu that was especially created for the evening, with an amuse-bouche of a rich Jersey Royals and truffle oil velouté covering ‘Maccy D lettuce’ – yes, that sauce covering the greenage normally found in the middle of a Big Mac.
The clash of fine dining and fast food worked surprisingly well, and was fantastic scooped up with their signature Marmite rolls (“for that umami taste,” they told us) with seaweed butter.
Back in the kitchen and the group of four apprentices were working hard to ensure the service went smoothly and the dishes not only tasted great but looked stunning, too. A starter of salt-and-sugar-cured salmon was bronzed to perfection with a blowtorch and served up with asparagus, pickled broad beans and little dots of a creamy goats' cheese.
Moving on to the main and it was a celebration of pork and broccoli. A little, plump piece of fillet was paired with a 16-hour slow-cooked slice of belly, which was packed full of flavour and inventively served with a chargrilled stalk of broccoli.
Apprentice Mel Borges was in charge of the first of the two dessert courses, which was basil panna cotta with poached peach and yogurt sorbet, all served up in a cute little jam jar. “Tonight is the biggest event we've done so far," she said. "It makes me a little bit nervous as it's so many people, but it's good to be working in the kitchen.”
Mel had been studying nutrition at St Mary's University, Twickenham, last year but was forced to drop out and she later lost her flat, becoming homeless. She heard about an apprenticeship opportunity at Beyond Food Foundation via her case worker at St Mungo's, a homeless support charity. She's been working with the foundation since January 2015.
She said: “In the beginning, you learn simple things about food and how to cook it, how to use knives, how to cut meat. Then we were coming in every day and cooking. We've been at Brigade since March and change positions in the kitchen every six weeks, so I've learned pastry, fish and now I'm working in the larder section, looking after the preparation and storage of cold ingredients."
“I was really bad at desserts when I started, but not now. I can say I'm really good – I can even make marshmallows and I didn't realise that was something you could make!”
The second dessert course was one of the highlights of the meal: a plate of a strawberry dreams. A scoop of fruit-flavoured parfait was rolled in tangy dehydrated strawberry powder and paired with a ball of sherbet strawberry sorbet topped off with little cubes of elderflower jelly and mini meringues – the sweetest way to finish off the dinner.
At the end of the evening Mel explained how the training had given her the confidence to pursue a career with food again. “They've helped me so much and I'd definitely recommend it to other people going through a similar experience to the one I went through," she says.
“I'd love to combine the kitchen skills I've learned here with my nutrition studies and to teach people how to eat healthy, delicious meal. Food doesn't have to be expensive – it'll be about education, too. I've now finished my exams at university and I have a flat again – it feels like I'm finally putting my life back together.”