Brixton People’s Kitchen at the Brixton Pound café 

“So it’s like Ready-Steady-Cook then”?

That’s the question I usually get asked, accompanied by a quizzical expression whenever I try to describe volunteering for Brixton People’s Kitchen.

It must be because I’m always asked what we cook and I say “it depends”…It depends on what we get. And I suppose that’s the bit that’s like a competitive reality television cooking show; once the food that’s been collected from supermarkets arrives, we all stand around the table and devise menus, drawing inspiration from the jumbled piles of food on the table. This time, getting ready for a lunch-time menu at the newly opened pay-as-you-feel Brixton Pound cafe on Atlantic Road, we had plenty to inspire; cauliflower, apples, bananas, nectarines, butternut squash, (organic and fresh) pesto, watercress, mayonnaise, bread, ginger, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, plums, green beans, onions, garlic, ginger. Ideas were tossed about, a menu decided, and over the course of two hours, we all set to chopping and stirring. The onions, squash, carrots, tomatoes and beans became a rich, warming minestrone; the apples and cabbages were transformed into a winter salad with a creamy, lemony mayonnaise dressing; the bananas mashed and enveloped into an almost vegan cake (no eggs or butter– just goats milk!), and the nectarines, plums and ginger combined into a velvety, zingy coulis accompaniment for the cake.

The other part that’s a bit like a competitive TV show is the ticking clock – although we don’t have a highly animated audience watching us live. As the clock neared midday, the croutons for the minestrone were still being cooked, the cake was in the oven and the salad still needed to be tossed. Oh, and we still needed to get to actually get to the Brixton Pound café. Dividing into teams, half of us took off for a brisk walk in the cold sunshine to Brixton, armed with flyers to distribute among the Saturday shoppers of Brixton – the other half stayed to put the finishing touches on the food.

I was part of the flyer team; after about fifteen minutes in typically bustling Brixton we happily headed to the café and warmed our hands around cups of tea and coffee – while we waited for the food to arrive…Waited and waited. Were this a competitive TV show this is where we may have lost some points. One taxi tour of Brixton later, our fellow volunteers tumbled out of a car, arms full of pots and pans. We set to warming and ladling, arranging and serving steaming plates of food and then sat down to enjoy the meal too.

Later, most customers served and having done some washing up, I sliced some of the banana cake for myself and ventured over to join some friends to ask them how they were doing. They commented, enthusiastically “it’s just like being in your living room”! And I thought that captured it perfectly. Maybe it was the lack of people hurrying around with bills but it was truly relaxed and welcoming; like popping by a friends for lunch…just as a café for the community should be!

So perhaps volunteering for BPK is like Ready-Steady-Cook but even better; you get to be creative and race against the clock but you also get to meet and spend time with a wonderful team of people, and cook with perfectly good, nourishing food that would otherwise have gone in the bin. The only thing missing is that you’re not on TV. Well, now that I think about it, maybe we could have a TV show. I bet it would be pretty entertaining.

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