New city cooking group for men finds ingredients for success

One of the Chop, Cook, Chat classes

Chopping vegetables, making sauces, cooking meat and measuring ingredients are all key skills in the kitchen.

But for some people, these basic tasks are new and unfamiliar and can be daunting when tried for the first time.

One cooking class is looking to help those stepping into the kitchen, in particular men who have recently become widowed or need to take care of their wives.

Chop, Cook, Chat has been running as a pilot scheme in Portsmouth for the past few months and has recently got funding to carry on and host more classes.

For men over 60, the cooking project helps newcomers to the kitchen to learn a range of healthy, nutritional meals that can be whipped up quickly.

Throughout the five-week course, the participants go from cooking eggs to making cottage pie and casseroles from scratch.

Jayne Gentle is a council officer in the independence and wellbeing team at Portsmouth City Council, which helps run the scheme.

She worked with colleague Linda Long to help put it together.

Jayne says: ‘These classes are for men who need to cook and have no cooking skills.

‘Some come along because they have an interest in cooking while others want to learn healthy meals they can make themselves.

‘We started with four men and we now have around 10 who come on a regular basis.

‘The feedback we get from the people who come along is really positive and they experience a positive change in their eating habits.

‘But it also builds their confidence and while they are cooking, they are encouraged to chat which helps with the social side of it too.

‘It is about avoiding social isolation as much as it is about promoting healthy eating.

‘It is fantastic to see at the end of the five weeks these men who were hardly eating or having supermarket ready meals eating nutritional, homemade meals.’

Linda, a community development office, agreed. She said it was great to see the scheme being a success.

‘This whole thing started when men already being helped by Jayne on other classes she ran came forward and enquired if there was a scheme available in the city,’ Linda says.

‘At that time, there wasn’t anything like that in the city so we looked into how it work, the costs and the benefits it could have.

‘The men who wanted to see it happen were bereaved or had recently become full-time carers and wanted to learn basic cooking skills.

‘It has been really good to see it grow from five men to having several more regulars.’

As well as help from Jayne, the group also gets advice and cooking tips from part-time professional chef Jim Atkinson (second from the top, far right).

He said the meals they prepare are tasty and healthy but also easy for the men to make on their own at home.

During the weekly Chop, Cook, Chat sessions, as well as making food to eat after the classes the members also make enough to go home with them as a second meal.

Jim, who got involved after hearing about the classes from a bereavement group, says: ‘It is really important for these men to learn these basic skills.

‘For many of them, if they have lost a partner, they might not know basic recipes or meal.

‘They could then lean towards ready meals or takeaways, so for them to have the chance to cook basic, homemade meals is brilliant.

‘Where they are basic meals, they can feel confident replicating them on their own at home.

‘But it has also been great to see the men talking and coming out of their shells as they get more confident.’

Thanks to extra funding from Southern Co-op, the scheme can now continue to run at All Saints Church, off Commercial Road, in the city centre.

The church getting on board and being happy to host the cooking classes was fantastic news for Jayne and her team.

She said the kitchen was the perfect size, had everyday utensils and cookers and there was also a nice space for the men to eat afterwards.

Reverend Mike Pye said he was delighted the church could help with Chop, Cook, Chat.

‘We had been looking to get involved in more community projects when we were approached about the kitchen,’ he says.

‘It fits in with the ethos of the church and we see ourselves as being the community and serving the community.

‘We like being able to do our bit to help these men and to see the project getting funding to continue.’

After the success of the pilot, Jayne and Linda are hoping to see Chop, Cook, Chat expand into more groups throughout Portsmouth.

Linda says: ‘Having some initial funding is really important to setting up these type of groups.

‘Long-term, we would like to see many more of these groups available.

‘We are always looking for support from businesses, whether that is funding, donating cooking equipment or ingredients.’

For more information on the group email jayne.gentle@portsmouthcc.gov.uk

DAVID GRANT

WHEN the realisation hit David Grant that if he was left on his own he would not be able to make dinner, he decided to do something about it.

The 75-year-old joined Chop, Cook, Chat to learn some easy recipes that he could replicate at home.

Recently, he has been helping more around the house to assist his wife and said he wanted to be able to support her in the kitchen too.

David, from Copnor, says: ‘I just felt if anything happened, I would be in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to fend for myself.

‘My wife has started to need more support at home so although I don’t have to cook at the moment, I wanted to learn how to for the future.’

And David said he has been surprised at some of the meals he has been putting together.

‘I am impressed with what we have been able to cook,’ he adds.

‘Going from being able to cook hardly anything to making burgers and casseroles has been amazing.

‘It has been great having these classes available and knowing that I could look after myself.

‘I have been telling people about Chop, Cook, Chat because the skills are something everyone can benefit from.’

But it is not just the tasty meals which has David coming back every week, it is the companionship too. He says: ‘There is a great atmosphere among the group and we all get along. The companionship is great too and we are all there to help each other.’

FRED BAKER

AS ONE of the original five in the Chop, Cook, Chat pilot, Fred Baker knows just how beneficial the group can be.

So when he found out it had received extra funding, the 91-year-old, from Copnor, was over the moon.

He says: ’It would be so easy for me to stay in the chair at home, but I always feel refreshed and stimulated when I’ve been to the group.

‘I’ve really enjoyed chatting with the other men there and am pleased that the group is going to continue running.

‘I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve learnt how to make lots of dishes and have been surprised at how simple most of them are.

‘The meal always tastes much nicer when you’ve cooked it from scratch, and you know what’s gone in it.

‘I also liked learning about the nutrients we need and how much is in different foods.’

Fred added although people might be nervous to begin with, everyone was friendly and willing to help.

‘I would recommend other older men by themselves give it a go. It might feel daunting going along at first but it’s really friendly and you get lots out of it.’

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