Manchester chefs dish up meal for poverty project to ‘give people a purpose’

David Gale has worked as a senior chef at the Hilton Hotel, The Lawn Club in Spinningfields and Mughli in Northern Quarter, and will open his new restaurant Louie next year…

But this lunchtime, he’s dishing up a meal in slightly different circumstances – on the first floor of a warehouse on Oldham Road.

As part of Manchester’s Food and Drink Festival, David and three other top Manchester chefs are taking part in a week-long takeover event to cook lunch for participants in the Mustard Tree charity’s Freedom Project.

To make it more challenging, the chefs are allowed to bring in one outside ingredient, but otherwise have to face the same challenge as the project participants: to use only food donated to the charity by members of the public.

MUSTARD TREE LUNCH: Everybody eating and filling their bellies

Mr Gale said he’s thrilled to be involved with Mustard Tree.

He said: “It’s nice to support something great. Hopefully they get a lot of press coverage and the awareness is raised, even if for a short time.

“They do great work here. It gives people a purpose.”

The Project helps people with problems like homelessness, mental health issues, addiction recovery and a criminal record find employment through a 20-week programme.

It encourages them to gain skills, experience and confidence by working in the six main areas of their operation: catering, warehousing and deliveries, customer services, facilities management, waste recycling and office admin.

Participants in the programme can also access additional services, including professional counselling and mentoring, art and drama classes and employability services and work placements, and a free hot meal every day.

All this week, the chefs have helped the catering team cook a lunch for Freedom Project participants, staff and volunteers, to raise awareness of Mustard Tree’s work and help the participants learn new skills.

COOKING FOOD FOR LUNCH: Preparing to make others happy

Mustard Tree are also taking part in the Food and Drink festival are running a pop-up food drive, The Empty Pantry, at the Festival Hub on Albert Square from September 18 to 20.

The other chefs involved in the takeover are former Mark Addy chef Robert Owen Brown, Tampopo’s Sandra Banks and Turtle Bay’s Quamar Sohail.

Despite the limit on ingredients, the week has produced a variety of dishes, including Jamaican, Thai and Mediterranean food.

“It’s been great for the participants that have connected with the chefs and have gained skills and insights into how they cook,” said Freedom Team manager Johnny Bushell.

“Everybody’s here at one o’clock, getting ready for a really good, delicious plate of food.

“Everyone’s looking forward to it and there’s lots of happy stomachs.”

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In the kitchen, David is getting ready to dish up, along with the Freedom Project’s David and Chloe and assistant chef Sam. Pasta is boiling, chicken is roasting and three different bowls of salad are being prepared.

David tells me that he thinks he’s the only chef who’s completely followed the one outside ingredient rule. Apart from the chicken, this impressively wide meal was prepared from Freedom Project ingredients.

Pudding is an unusual pineapple crumble with orange custard, chosen after David realised that the pineapple would otherwise have to be thrown out at the end of the day.

Many of the vegetables in the dish were also about to be binned, so their use reduces food waste.

Later, the spare chicken will be used in Mustard Tree’s weekly Soup Run, where they serve a free hot meal to Manchester’s homeless.

“It’s a real-world ‘Ready Steady Cook’,” said catering assistant Sam Stewart. “It’s really good fun.

“Everything’s cooked from scratch, the way it should be.”

PREPARING TO SERVE: Selfless cooks ready to deliver the goods

The team set up to serve lunch. The atmosphere’s relaxed and friendly – Chloe jokingly tells David not to trick her by swapping the gravy and the custard.

Soon a queue forms as people gather for lunch. Many of them, wearing reflective jackets, have come from working at the warehouse, where they sell second-hand furniture, clothing and books, with special discounts for people facing unemployment.

People can eat as much as they want, and many pile their plates high. The food soon disappears. It’s all delicious, particularly that pineapple crumble.

The resources assistant manager, Shiran, complements Chloe on today’s meal. “What’s your favourite part?” she asks him. “The whole week,” he replies.

David, 48, who was referred to Freedom Project by his Employment and Support Allowance advisor, says “It’s been good fun. I’ve very much enjoyed it.”

Mr Gale, who is always an ambassador for community charity Mancunian Way, added that Mustard Tree is “Five minutes from the city centre and I bet no one in Manchester knows.

“That’s the frightening thing. There’s so many people in this city that are doing amazing things for this city and no one knows about it.”

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