Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation has teamed up with a television chef to help a group of young adults address their problems with self-confidence and mental health through cooking.
Kitchen Therapy is an eight-week course run by Matei Baran – a quarter finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals. The project will culminate with the trainees creating a five-course tasting menu for paying guests at two of Teesside’s top restaurants as well as at Middlesbrough College.
Romanian-born Matei said his involvement in the project has made him think about his own problems with mental health, and for the first time he has spoken publicly about his suicide attempt when he was aged just 20 years old. Matei said working in a kitchen has saved him on more than one occasion.
“In the kitchen I found myself in a place which gave me back my confidence, took away my bad thoughts and helped me move forward,” he said.
The 15 trainees are being supported by Step Forward Tees Valley – which helps local people overcome barriers to work and training – and the Foundation’s own employability scheme.
The trainees have varying levels of kitchen experience. One of them was an army chef, another wants to open a café and several have never cooked before.
“When I worked as a Head Chef in restaurants and hotels I always liked to train people,” said 41-year-old Matei. “I helped people who were kitchen porters doing the pots and pans get up to Sous Chef level. I think it’s very important in this industry to try to find new talent from various backgrounds.”
Even if the trainees decide not to pursue careers in cooking, the Foundation believes Kitchen Therapy will make a big difference.
“It’s about giving them the opportunity to learn new skills,” said Events and Fundraising Coordinator, Alan Geddes. “But I suppose, more importantly, it’s about them getting inspired and building their self-esteem to go out into the world a much more confident person.”
Earlier this year Matei published a recipe book – Big Chef Mini Chef – which was inspired by his young son who suffers from the life-limiting disease Cystic Fibrosis. Proceeds from the book go the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
“I think with the traumas Matai has gone through in his personal life he’s decided that he wants to give something back – and I think it’s fantastic,” said Alan. “He’s been a driving force in helping Kitchen Therapy come to life. We’re so grateful that he’s putting such efforts into this project to make the dream a reality. We’d also like to thank Middlesbrough College who have allowed us to use their kitchen and equipment. The College is also providing us with all the ingredients.”
The first milestone for the trainees is on 28th July at the Riverside Stadium when they will make canapes for MFC Foundation’s partners before being introduced to the crowd during half-time at the Middlesbrough F.C versus St Etienne friendly.
Then, on 19th September, they will prepare a five-course tasting menu for guests at Al Forno’s in Middlesbrough. On 17th October they take over the kitchen at Chadwicks Inn in Maltby and on 26th November they will present a special Christmas Feast at Middlesbrough College’s Waterside Brasserie Restaurant.
For more details visit www.mfcfoundation.co.uk/event/kitchen-therapy-project-alforno-middlesbrough/