Look to your cupboards for creative inspiration

For some, cooking is a comfort or even a passion. Home chefs get great joy from trying out new recipes or experimenting with different ingredients.  But for those who don’t take to it naturally, it can be an intimidating task, even a chore. Hornsey Vale Community Centre benefits greatly from the support of local chefs who support us with our events and our Lunch Club. Local journalist Jackie Sablich interviewed two to ask for tips on how to bring creativity into your kitchen.

Clare, right, pictured with Lunch Club volunteer Ros.

Clare Heal owns and runs Sycamore Smyth, a one-woman catering company and cookery school. “There are three main strands to what I do,” she explains. “Good quality ready meals that I supply to my freezer-filling clients as well as to a few shops (you can get them in Fridge of Plenty on Crouch Hill and via the Flavour Street website), teaching cookery classes and running supper club events, or providing more bespoke private catering. 

Clare first came to Hornsey Vale Community Centre in 2018 when she was running children’s cookery classes, and has been helping with Lunch Club since 2019. She describes catering for Lunch Club as a “balancing act,” between flavour, prep time, budget, and dietary requirements. “The Lunch Club crowd are happy to try new things and always complimentary but, in my experience, the biggest crowd pleasers are quite traditional.  So I try to come up with a menu that’s recognisable and fun but easily adaptable for veggies, vegans and gluten free people.”

What is her best advice to people daunted by the idea of cooking for themselves at home?

“Start simple and don’t make life complicated for yourself! Start with the basics and learn to adapt them. A simple tomato sauce will get you a long way and is very adaptable. Likewise a white sauce. Once you’ve got those two down, you’re on your way to all sorts of pasta dishes, stews, curries, vegetable bakes and pies,” Clare says. 

To inject a bit of creativity into your home cooking, “start with ingredients, not recipes,” she advises. “Scan the fridge, veg rack or cupboards to see what needs using or take inspiration from what’s good and seasonal at the market or in the shops.” Clare adds: “Take the ingredient as the jumping off point then see how you feel. If you’re in need of comfort maybe turn to a slow-cooked stew. If you want something lighter and brighter, the exact same vegetables have the makings of a delicious salad.” 

Anna Maria in the Hornsey Vale kitchen

Anna Maria Raco is a cookery teacher who works at Kingsway College at Alexandra Centre with people with special needs. She also works part-time at Bread Ahead Bakery School as an assistant, and also teaches online cookery. 

She suggests amateur chefs experiment with online courses to be inspired. “A way to be creative in cooking at home is to learn to enjoy cooking/eating and then creativity will come naturally. Some people need to be taught how to enjoy cooking and eating,” she says. 

Finding a community can help people with a budding interest in cuisine. “I believe that cooking at home for yourself sometimes can be lonely, especially if you live alone. People need people, but saying this learning to appreciate the food you cook at home can be rewarding.”

Anna Maria has been volunteering at the centre for three years and says she loves seeing the happy faces of people tucking into her food. 

“My experience of Lunch Club is that it gives such a nice feeling being with other volunteers and working with passion and love for the people who come. It is such a pleasure to give my time to the community and work with such beautiful people.”

Interested in volunteering at, or attending, one of our upcoming Lunch Clubs? Call the office on 020 8348 4612 or email info@hornseyvale.org to book a place.


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