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How Hampshire-based Munch supports cooking in the community

Most of Mary's recipes use just one saucepan <i>(Image: Cath Lowe)</i>
Most of Mary's recipes use just one saucepan (Image: Cath Lowe)

Mary Needham-Carlton and her husband Denzil Carlton tell us about Winchester-based Munch, which supports Hampshire community cooking programmes.

It sounds like madness, but three years ago, as new parents with a six-month-old son, Mary Needham-Carlton and her husband Denzil Carlton both decided to ditch financial security and become self-employed, combining their skill sets in a new business: Munch.

Launched Easter 2021, just as we were all emerging from the last lockdown, Munch is no ordinary business. This is a Community Interest Company, based in Winchester, with a catering operation that functions as a social enterprise initiative. All profits generated by its catering services are used to support its community cooking programmes which offer workshops to the disadvantaged, to help them develop the skills and confidence they need to cook from scratch.

Mary reflects: ‘It was a leap of faith, but it seemed like the natural thing to do. We’re both passionate about what we do and we knew what we wanted to achieve.’

Great British Life: Mary and Denzil produce fun and vibrant workshops to take the fear out of cooking (c) Cath LoweMary and Denzil produce fun and vibrant workshops to take the fear out of cooking (c) Cath Lowe

Munch combines the couple’s food and community related interests. As a public health nutritionist, Mary has several years’ experience developing and delivering healthy cooking interventions in schools and community settings. She also has years of experience in hospitality, including high volume restaurant operations, such as senior management for Jamie Oliver Restaurants. As a chef, Denzil also has many years’ experience working in high-end operations, however he was keen to run his own catering events company. It was Mary who suggested: ‘Let’s do this together and combine our experience and skills.’

Less than three years later, Munch is already making a big impact. Crunching the numbers shows that Munch has worked with 182 families, 738 children (at holiday clubs and schools), 90 young people, 52 adults with additional needs and 27 adults with type 2 diabetes.

Mary leads all of Munch’s Community Cooking workshops. She adds: ‘There is nothing better than seeing the sense of achievement kids get from making their own food and trying new ingredients; the smiles on their faces are like nothing else.’

Great British Life: Munch has helped 738 children so far learn more about cooking (c) Cath LoweMunch has helped 738 children so far learn more about cooking (c) Cath Lowe

These fun yet structured workshops are run both online and in person. They aim to take the fear out of cooking and help people build the skills and confidence they need to cook from scratch, build a healthy relationship with food, adopt a sustainable approach to cooking, strengthen financial resilience and waste less.

Feedback has shown that these goals are being achieved. All those attending Munch’s cooking classes have reported not only learning new recipes and gathering new ideas to try at home, but have experienced improved mental health. In addition, the vast majority (92%) said they were more likely to cook from scratch at home, would consider making healthy changes to their cooking choices, and had learnt at least one new cooking skill. Most (87%) were eating more vegetables and more fibre. Over three-quarters of children attending a Munch cooking class had tried more foods. Perhaps most importantly, two-thirds of adults considered themselves to be more financially resilient as a result of attending Munch’s clubs.

Mary continues: ‘We are passionate about fighting health inequalities, empowering communities and helping individuals make healthy changes to adopt a more sustainable approach to food and nutrition!’

Great British Life: Mary is a public health nutritionist passionate about delivering healthy cooking interventions (c) Cath LoweMary is a public health nutritionist passionate about delivering healthy cooking interventions (c) Cath Lowe Great British Life: Last year, Mary was invited to demonstrate the Munch approach in the chef's kitchen at the inaugural Winchester Food Festival. Image: David NashLast year, Mary was invited to demonstrate the Munch approach in the chef's kitchen at the inaugural Winchester Food Festival. Image: David Nash

Consequently, Mary is now reaching out into the wider community, aware of the massive generation gap in the ability to cook from scratch. Last summer Mary was invited by charity partner Winchester Beacon and county food group Hampshire Fare to demonstrate the Munch approach in the chef’s kitchen at the inaugural Winchester Food Festival. Mary remembers: ‘I had never done anything like that before in my life and I was terrified, however the feedback was great!’

More recently Mary launched ‘Munch Lunch & Dinner’, a cookbook that was a year in the making and is all about getting back to basics in a fresh new way. This cookbook was supported by Winchester City Council and is set to be a new kitchen essential.

The cookbook was born out of Munch’s Community Cooking workshops and courses as a useful ‘take home tool’. However, Mary quickly realized that many others would benefit from this accessible approach to home cooking. Mary hopes this book will be a key ingredient in helping to fill that generational gap in being able to cook from scratch, and provide many with what is an essential life skill – the confidence to cook.

Great British Life: The recipe for Super green stirfry can be found in Mary's new book (c) Cath LoweThe recipe for Super green stirfry can be found in Mary's new book (c) Cath Lowe

Munch Lunch & Dinner is packed with easy-to-follow, delicious and nutritious meals that use low cost and easy to find ingredients. It is also much more than a set of useful recipes. This is a cookbook with a difference with clear guides on what to stock in your cupboards, how to shop and chop meat, fish and vegetables, and advice on meal planning and batch cooking meals for future use. There are also tips on cutting costs, for example by substituting expensive ingredients without sacrificing taste, reducing waste, and making your food go further by utilising leftovers. Throughout the book there is nutritional information and advice, including great ways to introduce more plants into your diet. The recipes don’t rely on specialist equipment either with most using just one saucepan!

Mary shares: ‘It’s really exciting to be able to help more people access good healthy food and learn about sustainable nutrition. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated! Cooking shows on television such as MasterChef are unrealistic and unattainable in everyday life. We wanted to develop something using ingredients and utensils people have in their kitchens at home. Sustainable nutrition doesn’t need to cost lots of money.

‘We hope this book will be a useful guide for new cooks as well as a go-to for experienced cooks looking for new ideas for quick mid-week meals. All profits go towards helping individuals and children at our Cooking Clubs learn valuable life skills, which is what we love more than anything here at Munch.’

Great British Life: Chef Denzil has combined his love of cooking with his wife's approach to food nutrition to create Munch (c) Cath LoweChef Denzil has combined his love of cooking with his wife's approach to food nutrition to create Munch (c) Cath Lowe

Meanwhile Denzil is mainly to be found in the kitchen, experimenting with flavours and creating new dishes. He comments: ‘I’m always striving to find exciting and innovative ways to use surplus food from our partners and suppliers to make dishes look amazing and taste even better!’

He is also busy running Munch’s bespoke catering services, including catering for corporate events, parties, weddings and more. It is, after all, the profits generated by their events catering that supports the community cooking workshop programme.

Ultimately Munch is a meeting of minds, skills, catering and community. And Munch Lunch & Dinner aims to cut through all the noise and confusion about cooking, in a simple, yet delicious way.

Great British Life: Munch Lunch & Dinner, a cookbook that was a year in the making and is all about getting back to basics in a fresh new wayMunch Lunch & Dinner, a cookbook that was a year in the making and is all about getting back to basics in a fresh new way

WHERE TO BUY

Munch Lunch & Dinner is available to buy from the Munch website, munchcic.co.uk and available in two formats: hardback priced at £21.99 and paperback for £14.99. The profit from every two books sold buys one space for someone to attend the Munch community cooking groups.



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