Cooking on gas!

Trying out the toad in the hole dish he cooked up at Rotherham's Ministry of Food is Alan Downs, of Manor Top.
Trying out the toad in the hole dish he cooked up at Rotherham's Ministry of Food is Alan Downs, of Manor Top.
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THINK of ‘revolution’ and what do you see? Russia, Romania... Rotherham?

It was nearly four years ago that cocky Cockney Jamie Oliver fired the first shots in his very own revolution.

Cooking up a dinner at the Ministry of Food in Rotherham are, from left, chef Keith Winn, Helen Fletcher, of Moorgate, Alan Downs, of Manor Top and Marce Rogan, of Wentworth.

Cooking up a dinner at the Ministry of Food in Rotherham are, from left, chef Keith Winn, Helen Fletcher, of Moorgate, Alan Downs, of Manor Top and Marce Rogan, of Wentworth.

The celebrity chef strode straight off our TV screens and into Rotherham, and quite bluntly told the people living there: change or you will suffer.

Change your diet, he warned, or the consequences will be dire.

Part of his revolution was to educate people - not by lecturing them, but by allowing them to learn for themselves just how easy preparing fresh and healthy food can be.

“I want to inspire you to get in the kitchen and cook meals for yourself and your family from scratch, whether you’re a complete beginner or a good cook who likes simplicity,” he said at the time.

“With basic skills under your belt and a handful of recipes, you’ll be able to prepare nutritious meals on any budget.”

Out of that The Ministry of Food was born - and today, four years on, the shop-cum-kitchen and cafe in All Saints Square in Rotherham town centre still serves as revolution HQ. It’s a place where people young and old, men and women from all walks of life, come to become healthier.

Its aim remains the same: to make Rotherham and South Yorkshire as a whole a healthier place to live by showing children and adults how to cook tasty meals, quickly, simply and economically, to a very high standard, using fresh, seasonal ingredients from local suppliers.

And there’s good news on the plate today - the Ministry has secured £80,000 from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, topped up by £20,000 from NHS Rotherham.

The new £100,000 windfall will pay for another 50 ten-week cookery courses, for 480 people to attend. As a result the cash will safeguard jobs, create apprenticeships, and help to enhance the provision for volunteering and work experience opportunities at The Ministry of Food.

The news has gone down like an expertly cooked meal with chef Keith Winn, who has worked at the Ministry since its beginning.

The former farmer, butcher and T-shirt maker stands before his class, sweet potato in hand.

Today he’s instructing a morning class on how to create a healthy toad-in-the hole accompanied by sweet potatoes and fresh vegetables.

“People often think that if something is healthy then it’s expensive,” he says. “But I will let you into Rotherham’s best kept secret. If you pay £6 for a lesson here, you get to keep everything you cook and there’s enough for four.

“Where else can you get that type of value for money?

“All our stuff is fresh and tasty, far better than ready meals - which often cost a lot more. During my years here I’ve worked with people aged from five to 90. It’s not about dieting and all that stuff, it’s about healthy eating, and it’s fun.”

Each lesson lasts around an-hour-and-a-half - more than enough time for anyone to prepare a great meal.

Classmates Helen Fletcher, Sue Ollett and Marceline Rogan are all keen to learn - so much so this is their second term attending the Ministry of Food.

Marceline, aged 57, a retired postmistress from Wentworth, said: “I didn’t come because I can’t cook, I can. I just wanted a few tips on how to do it in a more healthy way.

“And I enjoyed it so much I enrolled on a second course - we all did.”

Helen, 63, a retired credit controller from Moorgate, said: “I’ve learned lots of new things and I look forward to learning more.”

And Sue, 54, a tax inspector from Swinton, says her husband John and son William are now eating far more healthily due to the courses she’s attended. “I’m more aware now of what is good for you,” she said. “And my men certainly enjoy the stuff I take home!”

Rebecca Atchinson, a public health specialist with NHS Rotherham, helps to create a menu for the Ministry which is brimming with health. The Ministry of Food, which is now run as a social enterprise and is supported by Rotherham Council, the NHS and Voluntary Action Rotherham, has seen more than 7,500 participants so far.

As well as individuals, groups attending include people from The Prince’s Trust, brain injury association Headway, and offender rehabilitation charity SOVA.

And the Ministry is taking cooking clubs out into schools and children’s centres, teaching children from the age of five the importance of healthy eating. “But anyone can walk in off the street and enquire about lessons, and we also serve healthy meals, cooked freshly, and offer the best coffee in Rotherham!” said Rebecca. “Come on in - you’ll enjoy the experience.”