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Moose's first class, photo by Moose

Moose's first class, photo by Moose

Come Cook With Me

Its not just the kids who are back at school as Chris Connelley joins Moose’s food army.

September marks the moment when summer ends and the nation’s youth go back to school, anticipated for so long by school outfitters and embraced only at the very last minute by panicking parents unable to find the single black shoe deemed not to be a trainer, and therefore not in breach of ever tighter uniform rules.

And this year it is not just the kids who are back in class. The grown-ups are at it too, including a couple of us 7 Streeters, who, last Monday, returned for a one-off night school as we took up a generous offer to be part of a ‘pilot’ for a new cooking programme developed by Moose’s Kitchen, Kings Road’s acclaimed new eatery.

And let’s be clear from the off. This was not just any old cooking programme, for Moose is a businesswoman on a mission to educate the good people of Hastings and St. Leonards about cooking well with what they have left in the larder, and without using any meat or animal products.

In short, cooking well, vegan style.

Which, if I am honest, is new territory for me. The last time I even entered a training kitchen was in the late-1970s, when I spent a half -term doing Home Economics as it was then called, as one of a select group of ‘right on’ boys willing to be tutored in the art of crumble and spam fritter-making by the white-coated, hair-netted and reassuringly old school Miss Rowsell, whose curriculum most certainly excluded any explicit reference to the ‘V’ word.

Thirty years on, I am back, having joined a group of 8 other students, including my 7 Streets partner in crime, Chris Parry, in a rather smarter training kitchen on an unlikely culinary journey.

And as we made our introductions, I was all too aware that Chris and I were playing the role of the vegan virgins, our fellow students clearly demonstrating far greater promise. All of them cook seriously and a number have actively toyed with becoming vegan, suggesting lots of previous practice.

That said, we were undaunted and unbowed. We were clear that what we lacked in expertise we made up for in commitment, and, when given the choice of courses for what we discovered would be a four dish supper, we said no to the soup and sidelined the salad in favour of preparing the vegeburger option, surely the very heart of the meal.

Within minutes we were full at it, pulping kidney beans, adding spice (though Chris thinks not quite enough, and that we were too cautious) before mixing in the breadcrumbs to form the moist patties with all the zeal of Masterchef semi-finalists about to face Michel Roux.

The burgers formed, we had time for a quick trawl around the other work stations, all hives of good natured chat and concentrated prepping, and all overseen with great subtlety by the quietly inspirational Moose, before entering into some serious frying on a giant industrial hob that we were told needed careful adjustment to avoid unsightly singeing. And, lets be honest, who wants a burned veggieburger?

Worry not though. The gods looked down, the burgers were sound and Chris and I could relax, content we were novices no more but actual, real vegan cooks.

The cooking done, the final stage of the evening was  the consumption of the meal itself, when all the teams served each other with their particular contribution- a lovely warm, celebratory touch- before sharing details of how they had made their part of the supper in a big ‘round table’ reveal.

After which, for the first time all evening, there were extended moments of silence as we munched our way through the soup, salads, burgers and chocolate cake, justifiably proud of our efforts and sufficiently full to turn our hands to a little bit of light washing up as good exercise before heading off home.

Reflecting back on the experience, I believe the evening was hugely enjoyable and worked well at a number of levels. Specifically, it gave us all a chance to experiment with new ingredients, without staples like meat and animal products; as a safe opportunity to get ‘hands-on’ and achieve something practical which is enjoyed immediately by others; as a chance to ask broader questions about food and diets and, most important this, as a chance to connect with other people.

This one-off pilot was all about testing the resilience of Moose’s idea. About checking that the kitchen was large enough and that it was possible to supervise four mixed ability groups at one time.

And the good news is that it was a triumph, and that regular classes can now follow. We are working with Moose ‘s Kitchen to try and include residents from the 7 Streets in future events, confident that there will be a warm welcome for beginners, as well as trying to secure discounts for those not in work and/ or on a low income to make it affordable.

We have all seen ‘Come Dine With Me’. Now it is time for ‘Come Cook With Me’.

If you are interested in forming part of a future session, drop me a line at sevenstreetsprojectworker@yahoo.co.uk.

Posted 20:59 Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013 In: 7 Streets


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