Smart way to impress diners

Salad days: Jenni Grimley cooks up a meal for workmates at SMaRT Venue cafe on London Road.             PICTURE: steve taylor
Salad days: Jenni Grimley cooks up a meal for workmates at SMaRT Venue cafe on London Road. PICTURE: steve taylor
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Next time you need to take clients to lunch, or the office team out for a pat-on-the-back dinner, how about cooking it yourself?

A charity-run cafe in Sharrow is handing over the chef’s whites and inviting customers into the kitchen to cook for their friends or colleagues.

Hewlett-Packard project manager Jenni Grimley was the first to try the Working Lunch concept at SMaRT Venue on London Road.

She arrived mid-morning and sweated to ensure she had a two-course lunch ready so eight colleagues from her Napier Street office could fit the meal into their lunch-hour.

“Timing was tight, but I did it. I kept the food simple, everyone arrived at 1pm and was back at their desks by 2pm. I really enjoyed the challenge,” says Jenni, who admits she had a wealth of experience to fall back on; she was a professional chef before switching to the IT industry 15 years ago.

She heard about Working Lunch over a coffee at SMaRT one day and saw it as a good opportunity. “I manage people over three sites and am involved in our graduate programme. We’re always looking for fun ideas to build the team relationship. It’s also a chance for me to give something back for all the hard work they do,” she says.

Jenni cooked a spaghetti dish plus fruit salad and mint syrup – with SMaRT Venue manager Chris Shaw doing the donkeywork.

He says: ‘We want the experience to be fun for everyone, including the cook, so we’ll do all the leg work, including shopping for ingredients helping prepare the veg and clearing up at the end.”

Amateur chefs who fancy putting their skills to the test in a professional kitchen can book the venue for special occasions a well as work events.

Says Chris: “It’s a chance to show off and become MasterChef for the day.”

Money raised from each Working Lunch booking is going to a good cause. SMaRT Venue is a social enterprise run by First Step Trust, which provides work and training for unemployed people with mental health issues and social disadvantages.

Hire of the venue is free; you pay a minimum of £10 for each guest (there’s space for eight to 20 diners). Menus can be adjusted to fit your budget and events can be themed. To find out more, contact Chris on 0114 281 2981 or at chris.shaw@firststeptrust.org.uk