Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation has teamed up with a television chef to help a group of adults address their problems with self-confidence and mental health through cooking.
Kitchen Therapy is an eight-week course run by Matei Baran - a quarter finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals. The project will culminate with a dozen trainees creating a five-course tasting menu for paying guests at two of Teesside’s top restaurants as well as at Middlesbrough College.
Romanian-born Matei said his involvement in the project has made him think about his own problems with mental health, and for the first time he has spoken publicly about his suicide attempt when he was aged just 20 years old. Matei said working in a kitchen has saved him on more than one occasion.
“In the kitchen I found myself in a place which gave me back my confidence, took away my bad thoughts and helped me move forward,” he said. “Being involved in this project is amazing as I want to help and support people who share these emotional struggles. I want to show them that a kitchen can actually be a friendly place where you can find peace and motivation.”
The Kitchen Therapy course is taking place at Middlesbrough College which is providing the ingredients and its facilities for free. Molly Shaher, the college’s Programme Leader of Catering and Hospitality, said: “We want to open our catering facilities for all to access, to increase confidence, cooking skills and open doors to future qualifications or employment so supporting the Kitchen Therapy Project seemed like the perfect fit.”
The trainees are being supported by Step Forward Tees Valley – which helps local people overcome barriers to work and training – and the Foundation’s own employability scheme.
Even if they decide not to pursue careers in cooking, the Foundation believes Kitchen Therapy will make a big difference. “It’s about giving them the opportunity to learn new skills,” said Events and Fundraising Coordinator, Alan Geddes. “But I suppose, more importantly, it’s about them getting inspired and building their self-esteem to go out into the world a much more confident person.”
Earlier this year Matei published a recipe book – Big Chef Mini Chef – which was inspired by his young son who suffers from the life-limiting disease Cystic Fibrosis. Proceeds from the book go the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
“I think with the traumas Matai has gone through in his personal life he’s decided that he wants to give something back - and I think it’s fantastic,” said Alan. “He’s been a driving force in helping Kitchen Therapy come to life. We’re so grateful that he’s putting such efforts into this project to make the dream a reality. We’d also like to thank Middlesbrough College who have allowed us to use their kitchen and equipment. The College is also providing us with all the ingredients.”
Martin Jones is a Senior Employment Engagement Officer for Changing Lives which is part of the Step Forward Tees Valley programme. “Some have worked in the kitchen, some don’t even cook at home and others totally avoid the kitchen, but that’s due to their mental health issues, their anxiety and depression,” he said. “This is solving that. For them it’s a safe place for them to feel relaxed in a supportive environment. Because Matei’s so relaxed and passionate about what he does, he encourages that in other people.”
One of the trainees has already got a job and Emma Stephenson, who is 38 and from Middlesbrough, also hopes the course will lead to employment. “I eventually want to work in the hotel industry. This would be help me decide whether it is right for me. I think it’s brilliant. Hopefully I can get a job at the end of it,” she said.
The first milestone for the trainees is on Sunday at the Riverside Stadium when they will make canapes for MFC Foundation’s partners before being introduced to the crowd during half-time at the Middlesbrough F.C versus St Etienne friendly.
Then, on 19th September, they will prepare a five-course tasting menu for guests at Al Forno’s in Middlesbrough. On 17th October they take over the kitchen at Chadwicks Inn in Maltby and on 26th November they will present a special Christmas Feast at Middlesbrough College’s Waterside Brasserie Restaurant.
For more details visit www.mfcfoundation.co.uk/event/kitchen-therapy-project-alforno-middlesbrough/.