Sofia Larrinua: cookery school manager

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 40 seconds

Everyone has a story. Central Street Cookery School celebrates its 5th birthday this April. Manager Sofia Larrinua gives us a taste of the highlights at this innovative teaching and rentable kitchen at St Luke’s Community Centre, just off Old Street. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Sofia Larrinua, Central Street Cookery School manger: “At the end of the cookery class we have so many nice times eating together. You feel like such a generous host.” (c) islington faces

“When I started at Central Street Cookery School in April 2012 it was a building site,” says Sofia Larrinua surveying the exuberantly coloured (spring green and radish purple) units, cookers, fridges and sinks arranged around this unique kitchen in St Luke’s Community Centre, not far from Old Street. It’s a big space – there’s enough room for 24 people to cook together.

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“We’ve made a community cookery school happen and it’s good to be self-funded,” continues Sofia who manages the cookery team of seven chefs and a team of assistants. For the past five years they’ve helped around 3,000 people learn extra cooking skills each year. Now there are plans to celebrate their five year milestone with a Big Lunch on Sunday 18 June – which in 2017 will be remembering Jo Cox MP at the same time as it gets neighbourhoods to have a community meal together.

Read more about the Big Lunch on this Huffington Post piece by Brendan Cox here.

Over the years Central Street Cookery School has focused on cookery classes to help overcome social isolation; avoid food waste (tackling food poverty) and improved neighbourhood health.

“We always make healthier options when we are having lunch together,” explains Sofia who loves to get her class looking into the fridge to decide what to cook for lunch or dinner. “At our Ready Steady Let’s Cook cookery club for local adults (to tackle social isolation) we get people to become more resourceful about cooking. At our last one we made fish pie with braised greens, a nice salad and a delicious cake,” she says looking positively hungry. It’s only 11.30am…

Newington Green Fruit & Vegetable is a “cornucopia”. (c) islington faces

Places Sofia Larrinua enjoys around Islington

  • “I love the Old Ivy House, 166 Goswell Road. It’s a lovely, secret pub in Clerkenwell and they do very nice food. I also like The Peasant, 240 St John Street. It’s a bit gastro, but really nice food.”
  • “The bibimbap at Dotori (a Korean restaurant) in Finsbury Park is fantastic. It’s basically rice, spices, sometimes meat, and egg cooked on a hot stone.”
  • Fabrica is a very good tapas place at 45 Stroud Green Road. I like the octopus tentacle in paprika.”
  • “Another good place is Newington Green Fruit and Vegetable. It was so dreary in the past with just a sad iceberg lettuce, but the Turkish guy who rescued it has turned it into a cornucopia. It’s amazing.”
  • “I like another little place Cukurova Kebab at 73 Green Lanes, N16.”

Sofia Larrinua in Central Street Cookery School’s fab kitchen. (c) islington faces

A story about gnocchi
The area of St Luke’s includes some of the most socially deprived families in Islington, despite being overshadowed by the City and boasting so many new tech companies around Old Street. “We do children’s cooking classes which look at avoiding food waste, but they are very inclusive too. A lot of parents have kitchens that are very small, or maybe they have no kitchen, so we show them how to cook as a family and as a group. Some of the children are tiny – between four and 10 years old and by now they just get on with everything. They cook it and eat it,” adds Sofia. “I loved seeing parents with their two-year-old children making gnocchi from one of our older member’s recipes. Nina is 93 years old and, like many of our members of Italian descent, it was her mother’s gnocchi recipe so she inspected what the mums and toddlers had done and gave them the sign of approval. It was lovely to see such an old recipe being used.”

Sometimes cooking is all about teaching practical info about sell by dates, or how to use up fruit that might be just past it’s best (eg, in an apple cake). At other times it’s about helping elderly people who know how to cook share their skills. Trinidadian chicken has been a big hit. Next on the list is an evening for EC1 residents to learn how to cook Ethiopian cuisine run by Ethiopian chef Tsigereda.

Another big success has been “a course on how to manage your diabetes over 12 weeks. Over 70% of all attendees came to all the classes. That makes me proud. And at the end of the course people were taking active steps to manage their diabetes. It’s so nice when you get results.”

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Nothing in the fridge? Or the ingredients for something delicious? Central Cookery school can help overcome this challenge. (c) islington faces

Ready, steady, let’s cook
Sofia Larrinua: “I love it when we empty the fridge. We just need a chicken and a bit of flour and then we could cook…

  • Beetroot and margarine – to make a chocolate and beetroot cake.
  • Onion and celery – to make a stock for soup
  • Fresh basil – turn into basil pesto
  • Garlic – add to the roast chicken
  • Lemons – use in a tagine, roast alongside the chicken, make a lemon drizzle cake, or a Greek lemon soup. I like making lemon cordial to drink too – and a G&T (gin and tonic).

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Eating together
“I love it when so many people are cooking and eating together. You feel like such a generous host,” adds Sofia who grew up in Mexico City. She remembers her mother going to the market and buying ingredients, which were cooked and eaten by her family on the same day. “I feel an excess of celebrity chefs, cookery programmes and even cookery books can overwhelm people and create a lack of confidence about cooking,” says Sofia. “There are a few tricks to making healthy brown food look absolutely gorgeous – try adding smoked paprika, roast lemons, lots of herbs and serving on big dishes. I like white plates and colourful food. Make a paella, that’s colourful!”

With Sofia’s enthusiasm for world cuisine, efficiency and skill it’s no surprise that Central Street Cookery School has been such a success. If you’re an EC1 local, then lucky you. If you’re not, then you need to make friends, soon, with someone who lives near St Luke’s – because there’s a good chance that they will be an excellent cook if Sofia has had anything to do with it.

Happy Birthday Central Street Cookery School.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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