Hospice cookery course is a great help to grieving youngsters

Teen Cooking with Chris at the Hospice of St Francis. 'Hospice chef Chris Took with colleage Gill Sears and some of the teenagers.
Teen Cooking with Chris at the Hospice of St Francis. 'Hospice chef Chris Took with colleage Gill Sears and some of the teenagers.

Teenagers who are grieving the loss of a loved one are being offered a new course which uses cookery as therapy while also providing some vital life skills.

The initiative – the first of its kind in the UK -– has been launched by the Hospice of St Francis and follows a hugely successful course that was piloted a year ago for bereaved adults.

The Northchurch-based hospice’s clinical bereavement co-ordinator Tania Brocklehurst said: “The teenage years are a time when there’s a lot going on with hormones flying around and the pressures of adolescence.

“Add bereavement to the equation and it can be really tough – not only for teenagers but for their families, too.

“Connecting with them and knowing how to support them isn’t always easy.

“After the success of the adult Cooking With Chris course, a course for teenagers seemed like the obvious next step.”

Teen Cooking with Chris – led by the hospice’s chef Chris Took – aims to support teenagers who have lost a close family member under the care of the charity.

Five young people, aged 11 to 17, took part in the pilot, attending on Thursday nights for five weeks with a ‘significant adult’.

“By engaging them with cooking in pairs as a practical, supportive activity, the idea is that food becomes a therapeutic bridge between teenager and adults which enables conversation, helps increase understanding and enhances communication and bonding,” said Tania. “It’s all about building resilience.”

In pairs, they took it in turns to prepare themed menus uniquely tailored by Chris to fit in with requests made by the teenagers.

Themes included Amazing Mince, with meatballs, burgers and cottage pie all on the cookery curriculum, to Sausage Surprise, which covered a tasty toad in the hole, sausage and bean casserole and a sausage and potato pie.

Chef Chris said: “The adults as well as the teens were encouraged that tasty homemade meals don’t have to be expensive and complicated.

“You can make your own burger and it tastes nicer and you can make your own meatballs at the same time, with a quick tomato sauce.

“As the group settled, confidence grew and they began asking questions – it was lovely to see.

“One youngster had never used nutmeg before, but once she smelt it was really keen to add it to her meatballs.

“Another had never used a sharp knife before and took great care the very first time she cut an onion.”

Daisy Green, 14, was one of those who attended the pilot course. She went with mum Sarah one week, dad Russell another, and was joined by godmothers Alison Nicol and Kate Baker, who both live locally, during the other three weeks.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Daisy, who took part following the sudden death of her grandmother, Jennifer, who lived with the family at their home in Great Gaddesden.

“I thought it might be really difficult, fast chopping and lots of flames, but it wasn’t at all.

“On the induction evening, we could say what we wanted to cook and they gave us really cool aprons, which we got to keep at the end.

“I did it because I wanted to learn to be a better cook and I definitely feel I am.

“It’s good to have a focus and to be with other teenagers with a common bond.”

Daisy’s mum Sarah is full of praise for the initiative.

She said: “It’s built her confidence, it’s given her a special space to go and do something for herself and it’s teaching her cookery skills that my dear mum, who was a cookery teacher, would have been proud of.

“How wonderful that a journey, which started with such sadness, should continue with something so positive.”

For more information about the hospice visit www.stfrancis.org.uk