Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 40 seconds
Everyone has a story. Central StreetÂ Cookery School celebrates its 5th birthday this April. Manager Sofia Larrinua gives us a taste of theÂ highlights at this innovative teaching and rentable kitchen at St Luke’s Community Centre, just off Old Street. Interview by Nicola Baird.
â€śWhen I started at Central Street Cookery School in April 2012 it was a building site,â€ť says Sofia Larrinua surveying the exuberantly coloured (spring green and radish purple) units, cookers, fridges and sinks arranged around this unique kitchen in St Lukeâ€™s Community Centre, not far from Old Street. Itâ€™s a big space â€“ thereâ€™s enough room for 24 people to cook together.
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â€śWeâ€™ve made a community cookery school happen and itâ€™s good to be self-funded,â€ť continues Sofia who manages the cookery team of seven chefs and a team of assistants. For the past five years theyâ€™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 18Â June â€“ 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.
â€śWe always make healthier options when we are having lunch together,â€ť explains Sofia who loves to get her class looking into the fridge to decide what to cook for lunch or dinner. â€śAtÂ our Ready Steady Let’s Cook cookery club for local adults (to tackleÂ social isolation)Â 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,â€ť she says looking positively hungry. Itâ€™s only 11.30amâ€¦
Places Sofia Larrinua enjoys around Islington
- â€śI love the Old Ivy House, 166 Goswell Road. Itâ€™s a lovely, secret pub in Clerkenwell and they do very nice food.Â I also like The Peasant, 240 St John Street. Itâ€™s a bit gastro, but really nice food.â€ť
- â€śThe bibimbap at Dotori (a Korean restaurant) in Finsbury Park is fantastic. Itâ€™s basically rice, spices, sometimes meat, and egg cooked on a hot stone.â€ť
- â€śFabrica is a very good tapas place at 45 Stroud Green Road. I like the octopus tentacle in paprika.”
- â€śAnother 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. Itâ€™s amazing.â€ť
- â€śI like another little place Cukurova Kebab at 73 Green Lanes, N16.”
A story about gnocchi
The area of St Lukeâ€™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. â€śWe do childrenâ€™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 â€“ between four and 10 years old and by now they just get on with everything. They cook it and eat it,â€ť adds Sofia. â€śI loved seeing parents with their two-year-old childrenÂ making gnocchi from one of our older memberâ€™s recipes. Nina is 93 years old and, like many of our members of Italian descent, it was her motherâ€™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.â€ť
Sometimes cooking is all about teaching practical info about sell by dates, or how to use up fruit that might be just past itâ€™s best (eg, in an apple cake). At other times itâ€™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 â€śa 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. Itâ€™s so nice when you get results.â€ť
Ready, steady, letâ€™s cook
Sofia Larrinua: â€śI love it when we empty the fridge. We just need a chicken and a bit of flour and then we could cookâ€¦
- Beetroot and margarine â€“ to make a chocolate and beetroot cake.
- Onion and celery â€“ to make a stock for soup
- Fresh basil â€“ turn into basil pesto
- Garlic â€“ add to the roast chicken
- Lemons â€“ 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 â€“ and a G&T (gin and tonic).
â€śI love it when so many people are cooking and eating together. You feel like such a generous host,â€ť 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. â€śI feel an excess of celebrity chefs, cookery programmes and even cookery books can overwhelmÂ people and createÂ a lack of confidence about cooking,â€ť says Sofia. â€śThere are a few tricks to making healthy brown food look absolutely gorgeous â€“ try adding smoked paprika, roast lemons, lots of herbs and serving on big dishes. I like white plates and colourful food. Make a paella, thatâ€™s colourful!â€ť
With Sofiaâ€™s enthusiasm for world cuisine, efficiency and skill itâ€™s no surprise that Central Street Cookery School has been such a success. If youâ€™re an EC1 local, then lucky you. If youâ€™re not, then you need to make friends, soon, with someone who lives near St Lukeâ€™s – because thereâ€™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.
- Join the next monthly cookery club on Wednesday 19 April, 7-9.30pm to learn how to cook a delicious Ethiopian Easter Celebration supper. Book via reception, tel 020 7549 8176 or firstname.lastname@example.org Cost ÂŁ5 for EC1 residents, ÂŁ30 others. See http://centralstreet.org/category/community-activity/
- April cooking classes (running during the school holidays too) include sessions for EC1 adults residents, 6-12 year olds, baking, preserving and family classes. See http://centralstreet.org/category/community-activity/Â Address is: 90 Central Street, London EC1V 8AJ
- More info about Central Street Cookery School hire on the website http://centralstreet.org/space-hire/
Over to you
If youâ€™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 theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâ€™s roles or Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola