The timings, the sweat, the panic, the fear – you know the drill when it comes to cooking for more than four people. Well, we recently took on the challenge of cooking lunch for 60 people as part of the IPG Friday Lunch Club initiative… and surprisingly, there was less sweat and panic than we’d anticipated (and we didn’t poison anyone, which was a massive plus).
The Friday Lunch Club is a weekly drop-in service that provides companionship, a hot and healthy lunch and professional welfare support to the homeless, vulnerable and in need.
The project has been running for 3 years and is co-hosted by C4WS Homeless Project and King’s Cross Methodist Church. At its heart is a community environment in which guests take ownership of the Club and ensure it is maintained as a safe and welcoming place for anyone to join.
Who wouldn’t want to cook lunch for people who really need it?
We certainly did, and it all played out a little something like this:
Main: Chilli con carne (+ veggie option x 20 servings)
served with nachos, cheese, and soured cream
Dessert: Eton Mess
Preparation time: 3hrs
8.45am Our team of five Masterishchefs met at Sainsbury’s in Angel to tackle our first hurdle: just how much of everything do you buy to make chilli con carne and Eton Mess for a battalion?
It turns out, you buy a lot.
Approximately 43 bags of shopping later, our dysfunctional family shop was complete and we took a cab to the King’s Cross Methodist Church, where the magic was going to happen (we hoped).
9.30am We’re shown to the kitchen and start to unpack the supplies and start the prep. Now, it’s at this point that you’d expect someone to take charge.
But not with us. We all very naturally fell into specific roles, and very quickly became a democratic meal-machine that was a force to be reckoned with.
12.30pm We’re on. Everything is cooked to perfection, presented beautifully and ready to go. We take ourselves into the dining room and get ourselves ready (we of course have a system in place to ensure rapid service: the meal-machine does not accept failure).
This moment is actually pretty daunting: we’re faced with a room full of 60 hungry people, and before they can eat we have to introduce ourselves, which sensibly, we keep very short.
As service begins we get to chat to the guys coming in for their lunch. It’s a wildly diverse crowd, ranging from the homeless to vulnerable pensioners, and an entire spectrum in between.
Everyone is exceptionally polite, but what strikes me most, is just how empowering it is for these people to have choices. These choices might seem terribly prosaic to people as fortunate as us; to have cheese or not, to have your chilli next to your rice not on it, to have just a small dollop of soured cream, or to have no rice because you don’t like it. But in a world where their true choices are significantly limited, this seemed utterly profound and I was thrilled to play a small part in an initiative that not only gives practical help, but also gives back the right to be human by acknowledging something as simple as their likes and dislikes, instead of simply expecting them to ‘get what they’re given’.
I think the country would be filled with more compassion if everyone had to do this just once. It would, I’m sure, help enormously to dispel the myths that surround homelessness, vulnerability and poverty… and on a lighter note, is a great team building exercise!
We were fortunate enough to have serendipity on our side, and our democratic meal-machine has become a group of friends.
We’re going out for drinks. And we keep in touch.
So it just goes to show that food tastes better when you eat with friends.
And that means everyone.