Chopping knives were poised, aprons were pulled on and vegetables were at the ready in the common room of St. Eithne’s Park Community Centre on Wednesday night.
Young people learning to cook was the explanation for the culinary gathering and as the vegetables were sliced and diced the stoves were fired up and quicker than you can say ‘ready, steady, cook’ the young people had created a mouth-watering vegetable stir-fry.
The six week long course is called ‘Cook It’ and it’s run by the Public Health Agency. The programme is a community based nutrition education course targeted at lower income groups.
The event in St. Eithne’s Park was facilitated by Margaret Cunningham, Community Support Worker for Habinteg Housing.
Margaret said that whilst the main aim of the course was to educate young people on the importance of a nutritious diet it was also hoped that it would enable them to develop the skills required to cook for themselves when they live independently.
“The young people here are so enthusiastic. Whilst many of them lack the basic skills they are all willing learn and they listen to everything they are being told.”
“Some of the food they have cooked has been really nice and although it’s important they learn about healthy cooking it’s equally important that they acquire the skills to cook for themselves when they either choose to move out of the family home or go off university.”
Bláthnaid O’Donnell is 15 years-old and from Barr’s Lane. It’s the first time that Bláthnaid has ever tried anything like this and she said she hopes that by the end of it her mother will let her take over some of the dinner duties at home.
“I really see cooking as a hobby,” said Bláthnaid.
“I enjoy learning about new ingredients and cooking healthy meals. My mum does all the cooking at home at the minute but hopefully when I have completed ‘Cook It’ she will let me take on a few more tasks in the kitchen,” laughed Bláthnaid.
Many of the ingredients used by the young people on Wednesday were supplied by the men of the Springtown Activity Horticultural Group.
James ‘Banty’ Nash is one of the group’s founding members and he said that when contacted by Margaret Cunningham the group jumped at the chance to share some of their harvest.
“We have a vegetable garden near Shaw’s Court in Ballymagroarty. We grow herbs, potatoes, beetroot, carrots and many more vegetables,” said James.
“Margaret contacted us and asked us to bring up a few vegetables for the young people to cook with. It’s great for us because it means that we get to see and work with the young people.
“We are a really busy group at the minute. We’d love to stay and taste the food but we’re off to help with a few odd jobs in the local community.”
Margaret said that she was “over the moon” when the men decided to get involved and added that without their contribution the ‘Cook It’ dishes would not have anywhere near as tasty.
“Fair play to the men of Springtown Activity Horticultural Group. They are so enthusiastic about everything they do. Their contributions mean that we have been able to keep the costs down and taste of the finished dished are even better.”
Sixteen year-old Faolan Hanna took part in a ‘Cook It’ a few months ago. Faolan said that whilst he stills has a lot to learn he is enjoying the course all over again.
“Although I have done the course before, I am still learning new things,” said Faolan.
“Margaret has included new recipes in this ‘Cook It’ so it’s good for people like me because it means that we can continue to keep ourselves challenged.”
Roxanne Nixon, Health Development Worker with the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank Community Partnership said she was impressed with the high number of young men getting involved.
“It’s great to see so many young men showing an interest in cooking. The ‘Cook It’ is a very practical way of engaging with younger people and teaching them new skills.