A TV MasterChef has been enlisted to teach North East university students how to cook cheap and healthy meals.
Thousands of young people moved into student accommodation in Newcastle earlier this month. For many it is the first time they have had to look after themselves. For others it is a time to break bad habits.
“Last year I spent £1,500 on takeaways. It’s not good,” admitted second year politics student Narcis Polo Ross.
But help is at hand in the shape of Chef Matei Baran, a quarter finalist in MasterChef: The Professionals in 2016.
He has launched a series of masterclasses to teach students how to prepare healthy food on a tight budget.
The masterclasses are the idea of Carl Wilkinson, the general manager of NIDO in Newcastle, which provides accommodation for thousands of students attending all of the North East universities.
“Chef has a passion for making cooking accessible for everybody and that’s key for us,” said Carl, who used to work with Matei at one of the city’s top hotels.
“There’s a growing desire to eat healthily. Yes, students like takeaways but in the last two or three years that’s really changed round and people are more conscious of what they’re eating.
“Students are always looking for inspiration and being able to cook on a budget. The equipment in their flat or studio is limited so I wanted Chef to come up with something that’s healthy, that can be done within a budget and cooked on the equipment they’ve got – and I couldn’t think of anybody better to show them how to do it.”
As well as working at some of the North East’s best-known hotels and restaurants, Chef Matei has been behind a number of projects to spread the good news about cooking to people who do not normally cook.
Earlier this year he published a children’s recipe book called Big Chef Mini Chef and he has just completed a programme called Kitchen Therapy to support people who have had problems with their mental health. In association with Middlesbrough Football Club’s charity foundation, Kitchen Therapy was a training course for novice chefs which culminated with them preparing a meal at one of Teesside’s top restaurants for 50 paying guests.
The first of his University Masterclasses focused on breakfast, with students learning how to make a filling smoothie with apples, celery, spinach, cucumber, carrot, turmeric, ginger and orange.
He also gave them a “naughty” option - French toast, blueberries and sour cream in a Geordie breakfast stottie - and three healthy recipes of smashed avocado on toast with poached eggs and tomato salsa; white scrambled eggs with asparagus and chillies, and a three egg omelette with peppers, feta and chorizo.
Third year Northumbria Sports Science student Ashleigh Taylor from Morpeth said: “I do enjoy cooking, but for the past week it’s been chips and turkey dinosaurs. So today’s been really useful.”
Bio-Medicine student Dajana Neimamaid from Lithuania said: “Before I came to the UK I didn’t really go to takeaways, but here there’s Chinese, Indian, pizza, kebab shops. It takes time to cook meals and sometimes you can’t be bothered to go to the shop to buy the products you need.”
Politics student Narcis Polo Ross said: “Since I started uni my diet went wrong. I really enjoy cooking normally. The problem is I’m sometimes too lazy or too busy to do something.”
Matei told the students that most of his recipes take 10 minutes – less than the time taken to walk to a shop and back.
“They’re learning lots of clever things, but until now - for many of them - not how to cook. That’s a skill for life which I’m sure they’ll all grow to love. At the moment this is all about giving them ideas and the confidence to have a go,” he said.
Next week Matei will be teaching students how they can save money by cooking healthy and quick lunches and his third masterclass will focus on dinner.