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Last autumn we relaunched our Good Food Youth Club with the St Teresa’s Youth Club, based in Sandy’s Community Centre. Our new idea was simple: put on exciting, interactive cookery classes to teach the 14-16 year olds about essential cookery skills and get them thinking about interesting ingredients that are new to them. 

As always, we want the participants in our courses to be involved in their design. We met with the club organisers and the young people to find out what they were interested in and how to make the project work best for them. It’s important to us to take a collaborative approach at Edinburgh Food Social as it allows for a sense of ownership over the project, generates buy-in and ensures we create real impact for those attending. 

The week before the club started we’d been on a trip to the wonderful Kilduff Farm and our kitchen was brimming with all sorts of beautiful pumpkins. We love introducing people to the idea of pumpkins as food and not just decorations. First up on the menu was pumpkin gnocchi and tomato sauce (with fried chorizo, blue cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds for those brave enough to try!). The vast majority of the group had never had gnocchi before, so this was an introduction not just to pumpkin but to a cheap and easy comfort food. A tomato sauce is a great dish to teach as it’s so relatable. It’s also a great skill to be able to create a tastier, healthy, and cheaper alternative to a jarred sauce from the supermarket. It was clear from the number of empty plates (despite the hesitancy at first!) that the meal was a success. 

We always try to teach people far more than a single meal or recipe. The idea is that everything we teach is super adaptable and that you can easily swap out any of the ingredients with what’s available. We explained how gnocchi is normally made with potato but could also be made with other ingredients (like beetroots). Like everything we teach, it’s about learning the method and then tweaking and playing with it. 

While we lean heavily towards teaching healthy dishes we enjoy a treat as much as the next person! There was a strong desire to learn how to make cheesecake among the young people, so that was added to the menu. Our classes have a strong focus on teaching a variety of skills, so this was an opportunity to explore the different types of cheesecake and the differences between them. When it came to the cooking the cheesecakes, the young people split themselves into a few smaller groups and quickly a jovial sense of competition between the groups emerged.The enthusiasm and energy that went into their cheesecakes was great to see.It was clear that the trust between us was starting to build thanks to collaborating on these sweet treats.

As the festive season approached Christmas dinner was on everyone’s mind. The young people pulled together lists of what they would like to learn to cook for a Christmas dinner and we got started on teaching Yorkshire puds, pigs and blankets, onion gravy and cranberry sauce. We then had great fun stuffing all of the bits into the Yorkshire pudding for a delicious Christmas snack!

We were delighted to hear from St Teresa’s that they could see a difference in some of the young people’s confidence and that they had “really come out of their shell”. We also knew it was going well when some of the young people began to bring some friends to the classes and were excited to show them what the club was all about. We’ve been glad (and sad!) to hear that over the Christmas holidays, the young people were asking about when we would be coming back. 

We have now planned another 6-week programme running up to Easter 2024. This time we plan to take the young people through one of our slightly more intense programmes and on the last week they will host a community meal. They will decide who they cook for and what they cook and this programme will teach them about event planning and curating a menu. Pulling off the final meal is always a very proud moment for everyone involved and we look forward to taking them along the journey over the coming weeks.