February's Star of the Month is Ashley Palmer-Watts, head chef at the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire. He was nominated by Monica Brown of Lotus PR for his work teaching young children in south London how to cook. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn
Why did you nominate Ashley?
Monica Brown Ashley contributes an enormous amount of personal time to charity and recently taught children aged eight to 12 how to cook basic dishes and staples that they can add to. The children involved are all young carers who look after their mentally ill parents and have many chores to do at home, and cooking a family meal is just one of the difficulties they face daily. Ashley not only used his skills to teach them about cooking but also provided them with a creative and fun environment and a much-needed break. One eight-year-old commented on her day with him that it was great to have had some "me" time.
What motivated you to spend the day with the kids?
Ashley Palmer-Watts The organisers of the Merton Kids Can Cook project wrote to Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck because we already do cookery lessons at a school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. My wife and I now live in the borough of Merton so I was instantly drawn to the project. But the day I spent with the kids wasn't a one-off and I'll continue to work with them on a regular basis.
What did you do with them?
APW We started off describing tastes and explaining how tasting something works in terms of the physical reactions of your body - by holding your nose and eating something and then comparing the taste when you let go of your nose - and then I went on to teaching them how to cook basic dishes. We made a butternut squash soup and then a cold pasta salad and the aim was to show them how to make something they can easily do at home. Afterwards the kids made a chocolate mousse, and while that was setting we made ice-cream using liquid nitrogen.
How did the kids respond?
APW They absolutely loved it and for me it was such a brilliant experience to see them get so excited. At first they didn't want to go anywhere near the butternut but after a while they really got into it. Seeing them go from "I don't want this" to "Can I have some more?" was hugely rewarding. Some of them told me they don't even have cookers at home and only eat meals heated up in a microwave so it was just great to see them learn to cook and have fun with food.
What will you do with the money?
APW I'm raising funds to take the kids to Jody Scheckter's organic farm, Laverstoke Park, for a day so I'm putting the £500 prize money towards this. It'll be so great to get them out of London for a day so they can see the animals and understand where food comes from.
To nominate someone for this award, visit www.caterersearch.com/starofthemonth