Restaurant Industry News spoke with acclaimed British Chef Tom Aikens about his involvement with the Charity FoodCycle and the importance of raising awareness of such important issues.
What is FoodCycle and why is it important?
FoodCycle is an amazing charity that for the past 10 years has provided the equivalent of 1 Million meals to people who are hungry and lonely. Their volunteers source food and prepare meals for people who can’t afford it or people who will normally eat alone and without company. FoodCycle is great because through food they bring those people together each week and give them something to look forward to and come back the following week, building a community of guests who end up becoming friends and support for each other’s.
What made you want to be a part of FoodCycle?
I think it’s an amazing initiative as food is a great social instrument. FoodCycle brings together people who wouldn’t normally have anyone to share the table with or no table at all and this is so important. I have so many lovely memories of family meals around the table growing up and even now I always love to reunite family and friends around the kitchen table. I love cooking for my loved ones and see the smiles on their faces when they taste the food that I have prepared and hear the stories they share at the table. This is what FoodCycle does, reuniting less fortunate and lonely people and giving them an opportunity to share their stories and make friends over a lovely meal each week so I was very happy to support their cause from the start and to get involved because my best memories are always linked to food and the people I shared it with.
Do you think it is important to continually raise awareness of these issues?
Absolutely. So often we get so caught up with our frenetic lives that we don’t focus on problems that don’t touch us directly. It really is sometimes just a matter of being more aware and paying more attention. Everyone can make a difference and have an impact on these issues, sometimes just by changing a simple habit or by having an active role in some of the great initiatives that charities like FoodCycle and their volunteers are creating.
What dishes are you making for the 10th Anniversary Gala Dinner?
I will be preparing the appetizer : pea pannacotta with crushed peas and mint. It’s a very light mousse made with vegetable stock & pea, then blended and set with a seaweed setting agent agar agar, then with this is split peas, a chilled pea soup, pea shoots and mint oil.
Do you think there has been a rise in people that are currently living below the poverty line in the UK?
Statistics speak for themselves and with the rising costs of life in past decades, and the worrying scenario Great Britain is facing in the upcoming months, there is no doubt that many people have been and will continue to be affected even more. It is our responsibility to come together and utilize all resources we have in help of those who have less and food is so often taken for granted or wasted. It’s so important to get the message out there as much as possible to raise awareness among people that our food surplus could be vital to others and shouldn’t go to waste.
Has being a part of charity events made you more aware of these problems?
Definitely. The more I got involved with FoodCycle and other charities I worked with, such as School Food Matters, Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Campaign and Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign to name a few, the more I felt I wanted to be an active advocate. All collaborations I have done with them have been eyes opening experiences and I feel a sense of responsibility, having a big audience of followers, to make these problems visible to as many people as possible via all channels, in the attempt of getting more people actively involved.
What made you aspire to become a chef?
My twin brother and I have always helped our mother in the kitchen. She would involve us in making cakes and home baking, or just weighing things out, but we were always on hand to help to lick out the occasional sticky raw cake mix that was left in the bottom of the bowl.
Living in Norfolk we had a large back garden where we grew a lot of our own fruit and vegetables; Understanding seasonality and the simple taste’s of nature was the start of my further footsteps into the kitchen.
In 1986 my brother and I joined catering college in Norwich after which I went straight to London and started my career as a chef from the very bottom up to where I am now.
The time spent in the kitchen with my family and the happiness coming from those flavours and smells and all those lovely memories is what made me want to pursue this career.
Do you think cooking can boost wellbeing and help with loneliness?
Absolutely. Just think how comforting can be coming home to a nice cooked meal or cooking a roast for your family on a Sunday and sharing that lovely food with others.
I don’t have any great memories of a cold sandwich eaten alone in front of the TV or from a pack. But this is the unfortunate reality for many people so creating the opportunity to get them out of their homes each week to interact, socialize and have a laugh with others can make a huge difference in boosting their wellbeing and helping with loneliness.
Do you think it is important to educate people about food and how to put different ingredients together?
Yes. It’s good to know how to cook but it’s also good to know how to eat. There’s a variety of food and cooking techniques that can transform a simple ingredient into a variety of new creations. Food is never boring and can always be reinvented into something new, there are so many ways to transform leftovers into delicious new creations with the additions of a few extra ingredients and minimize the waste.
Eating well also means living well, I am very much into fitness and food definitely plays an important role in keeping fit and healthy. Having two young daughters I am also trying to educate them from an early age about healthy eating and cooking.
What would you say to people who want to get involved, and what can they do to help make a difference?
Everyone can make a difference, no effort is too small. From donating money and food to volunteering collecting food surplus from food retailers or volunteering cooking meals and organizing fundraising initiatives. FoodCycle has also a number of corporate partners so everyone can get involved at different levels and in various ways. The first step is visiting their website www.foodcycle.org.uk to see more of the amazing work they’re doing.