Food for thought

Sheffield Food Festival: Dawn Young from Zest making budget tomato sauce
Sheffield Food Festival: Dawn Young from Zest making budget tomato sauce

“THIS makes a meal for four people for £2.90,” said Dawn Young, stirring her multi-purpose tomato sauce base in the Sheffield Food Festival demonstration kitchen on Fargate.

There was a packed audience for the Zest Healthy Community Programme ‘Cooking on a Budget’ presentation. Dawn and colleague Miriam Densham finished off their first demo meal with a dash of low-fat fungal meat substitute and a crowd of pensioners, students and family food providers descended, immediately giving Dawn’s budget bolognese the thumbs-up.

Sheffield Food Festival: Haaris Jawad (8 left) and Taha Shabir (also 8) watched by Ann Fletcher of Let's Get Cooking

Sheffield Food Festival: Haaris Jawad (8 left) and Taha Shabir (also 8) watched by Ann Fletcher of Let's Get Cooking

“Now we’ll try some pizza” she said, revealing how 80p packets of naan bread can be repurposed as pizza base. “A bit more expensive,” noted Miriam. “£3.10 for four people.”

The NHS-funded Zest programme is tackling some of the health problems of inner-city Sheffield, such as mental health issues and childhood obesity, by teaching people how to cook and eat healthily on a tight budget.

Dawn’s enthusiasm for her subject helps people gain an interest in cooking, eating together and sourcing decent (and cheap) ingredients.

At a time when competitive cookery rules TV schedules, Dawn believes the Sheffield public can be inspired by TV chefs. “People these days want something quick, healthy and cheap. It’s not always ‘Oh let’s have lobster thermidor or oysters’, it’s got to be doable.”

Sheffield Food Festival had its share of top local chef celebs to draw in foodie tourists last weekend but the stalls and events also addressed the other side of a city struggling with obesity, poor diet and food poverty. Sheffield already has half a dozen foodbanks to feed Sheffielders who don’t have enough money to eat properly and more are on their way.

Tom James from Grow Sheffield was promoting the benefits of home-grown food. The city-grown project has attracted national attention over the last few years and Tom estimated that close to 1,000 Sheffielders are now taking part in the various Grow Sheffield projects. They include a new online food map (The Sheffield Food Network) highlighting ethical and sustainable suppliers and outlets, a Community Growers scheme to connect seasoned city growers with newcomers and the Abundance project which redistributes surplus fruit and veg from gardens or abandoned trees to people in need.

“We’ve been going since 2007 and the aim is to support the people of Sheffield in growing and sharing food,” said Tom. “It’s now getting to the busiest time of year for Abundance, and we have new projects starting all over the city, from Halfway to Hillsborough.

“It’s about knowledge,” said Tom. “For the last 20 or 30 years people have been handed their food on a plate, it was all about convenience and fast food, and the skills of growing and cooking your own food were in some ways lost to a generation. But now people are getting interested and I think those habits are changing.”

Owler Brook Primary School in Grimesthorpe has been running cooking classes for children and parents for several years. “We now have a waiting list for our cooking club,” said teacher Gulzmeer Khan.

The club is operated through the Let’s Get Cooking network, a Big Lottery-funded project inspired by Jamie Oliver’s work to promote better food in schools. “It’s about cooking healthy meals from scratch and we know that 96% of the people who take part will replicate what they learn at home,” said Lisette Baker, Yorkshire organiser for Let’s Get Cooking, who works in several Sheffield schools.

“You can learn recipes to use later and you can make your own food if no-one is at home,” said eight-year-old Nisha Khan, after her pancake cooking session in the Winter Garden. “I want to be a chef when I get older.”

“The children are very very keen,” said Owler Brook teacher Louise Linley. “We even have an allotment to grow produce to use in recipes.”

Gulzmeer Khan added that the school used many culinary cultures: “We have Slovak, Arabic, Yemeni, English and Pakistani traditions, for example, and the children bring in those traditions and talk about them.”

Lisette Baker said that being hard up doesn’t necessarily preclude eating well, citing the wartime tradition of growing your own and making the most of simple ingredients.

“People have been bombarded with messages about wanting everything instantly, two for one, or ‘fill your plate’ offers. They do understand the messages about eating healthily, but putting it into practice can be hard, so we want to help make it doable and achievable.”

Dawn Young from Zest is known as the Nigella of Netherthorpe, said colleague Miriam Densham, not least due to her adaptions of the celebrity’s recipes to Morrisons budget range.

“You can adjust what you see on TV to suit your pocket, it just needs a bit of planning,” said Dawn. “If you are in a hard place financially, you’ve got no option, you’ve got to get good at it.”