The Food Chain Kitchen
There are lots of things involved in running our kitchen. What's a typical busy day like?
For the Kitchen Manager, Peter Blowers, the working day starts before he reaches his office – The Food Chain Kitchen – when he purchases a range of daily papers for service users and a selection of fresh pastries for early morning volunteers.
The kitchen wakes up with the turning on of the air-conditioning / heating, the gas and extractor fans. The fresh food produce arrived yesterday and is supplemented with donated dry-stock foods from the basement storeroom. Peter can now lay out work stations for each of the dishes being cooked by volunteers this morning.
At 10:00am the first volunteers arrive. Some will host today’s Eating Together communal meal, whilst the others will do the cooking. Peter holds a quick meeting to discuss the menu allocate roles and brief against any current concerns. Then the real work begins. Potatoes are peeled, meats are marinated and tables are laid for lunch. Peter ensures that safe food temperatures are reached and cleaning processes are adhered to throughout.
Anna Brewster, Services and Volunteer Manager, takes an active role front of house along with the volunteer hosts when the service users – who are all isolated people living with HIV in London – begin to arrive from 11am. She has already encouraged any new attendees to arrive early and makes sure that the volunteers get them settled in with a hot drink, a fruit snack and a paper before the more confident attendees arrive.
A service user’s free membership lasts for three months, so it is almost always someone’s first meal and another’s last.
At midday service users are reminded of the Kitchen Code (to protect, to respect, and to ensure confidentiality: “be nice to others or you won’t get pudding!”). On Wednesdays, the guest speaker is then introduced. This can be someone from another organisation talking about anything from debt relief or stress management, to interview techniques and peer support. On Saturdays, the guest speaker is always a a qualified volunteer talking about a diet related topic such as the relationship between food and sleep.
Travel costs incurred by service users and volunteers are reimbursed in order to remove this barrier to attendance. And then lunch is served to volunteers and service users alike. We’ve a choice of three dishes including a vegetarian and a Halal option; followed by a choice for dessert. All meals look amazing, a feast of colours and nutritionally balanced as well as tasty.
Once tummies are full and leftovers have either been boxed up for takeaway, it’s all hands on deck to scrape plates, pack away tables and mop floors. The kitchen falls quiet by two thirty.
Peter will take this opportunity to complete a stock check, plan menus for future sessions and to order the ingredients for tomorrow’s recipes. He’s also planning the catering for a private function for which The Food Chain has been engaged. We sort through the laundry and prepare it for collection, then check the donated produce from supporters such as The Co-op and The People’s Supermarket.
It’s time to rearrange the kitchen from café to cookery school.
Our team of volunteers arrive, scrub hands and don aprons and hair nets. Volunteers range from people with a personal connection to HIV (including some ex-service users) to those with a professional interest in nutrition or cookery.
Together the ingredients for the evening session are weighed out and set out for use at the six identical workstations.
The group arrives; up to 12 can be accommodated, and settles in to the first part of nutrition theory. Today’s session is an Introduction to HIV and Nutrition.
One of the staff Dietitians leads sessions on a a total of four topics including how HIV relates to heart disease and diabetes.
The group then has a demonstration of today’s recipes before being put in pairs and teamed up with a volunteer to support them to follow the recipes themselves. Whilst the food is cooking the group reconvenes for a final nutritional discussion before eating the fruits of their labours.
After one last clear down, Peter sets the kitchen up for tomorrow’s event – it’s a fundraiser to help fund these vital services. The kitchen is then put back to bed!