Food & Drink

Brixton cookery school led by migrants offers Christmas classes

A Brixton based charity which helps migrants and refugees struggling to integrate and find employment presents its Christmas offering of socially distanced cookery classes.

Migrateful seeks to empower refugees and migrants as they teach their childhood recipes to eager Londoners.

At the start of the year, business was booming, but the coronavirus pandemic struck and forced the charity to adapt.

Migrateful’s founder Jessica Thompson said: “As soon as the lockdown kicked in in March we had to cancel all of our classes, which meant our income stream dried up overnight.”

Within a month the school had launched all of its classes online, with chefs teaching their recipes on Zoom.

PRE-COVID: Migrateful holds cookery classes for corporate clients as team building exercises or for individuals keen to learn new recipes Credit: Migrateful

Chefs teach recipes from all over the world and some ingredients can only be found at specific markets.

For their online classes, the charity sources all of the ingredients needed and packs them up with a Migrateful apron and some wine or a soft drink in a Christmas hamper to make a nice gift for the recipient.

Chefs share their stories and educate clients on their food and culture whilst taking them through their recipes step by step so that everyone can enjoy a home-cooked meal at the end of the class.

MISSION STATEMENT: Migrateful’s Founder Jess Thompson talking about their mission

Thompson founded Migrateful in 2017 following discussions with a group of refugees from Tower Hamlets where she worked as an English teacher.

Despite being extremely qualified, her students were struggling to find jobs due to language barriers and because their qualifications were not recognised in the UK.

Elizabeth Kolawole-Johnson, a chef for Migrateful, moved to London to be united with her siblings after her mother in Nigeria passed away.

She spent years waiting for a decision from the Home Office about her immigration status, all the while she unable to work or receive benefit payments.

CHEF: Kolawole-Johnson works for Migrateful. Credit: Migrateful

Kolawole-Johnson said: “The first two or so weeks when I arrived in London it was like ‘wow my dream has come true’. I was very happy but that deflated pretty fast.

“I had very little knowledge of the migration system and that cost me years of waiting and waiting.

“In retrospect, I might have thought differently about coming because I paid too dear a price for that journey.

“I was someone who had a degree and left a good job back home in Nigeria. I was relatively well off back home but I came to zero, and I had to scrounge for almost everything, for basic necessities.”

INTERNATIONAL: Cookery classes at Migrateful are taught by refugee and migrant chefs from around the world. Credit: Migrateful

Migrateful chefs use their classes to share their journeys and to celebrate their culture with clients.

Shona ODonnell, Head of Strategic events for Better Collective, a sports betting company, recently attended one of Migrateful’s online classes.

She said: “I properly cried.

“When you read about people’s stories in the news and in the media it’s very different to when you connect it with an actual person.

“Its much more meaningful when you hear from who has been impacted by as you have that personal connection. They are a real person not just a name.”

The charity uses its classes not only to teach clients new recipes but to challenge negative stereotypes surrounding migrants.

Kolawole-Johnson said: “I think a lot of people don’t know how much we have to go through waiting for the home office or of the scars we live with.

“I couldn’t work for eight years. Now that I have started working I feel like I can never stop. I just keep piling on more because I am trying to make up for that lost time because it left a scar on me.”

The charity has helped 57 migrant and refugee chefs and held over 900 classes for over 9,000 clients.

Far from slowing down, the charity hopes to expand further.

Having already expanded the charity to Bristol, Thompson has bigger plans for 2021.

Classes are usually held in venues across London and the charity plans to establish a more permanent base in London next year.

Thompson said: “It’s been a really difficult year, but demand for our classes has been high. They get people together at a time which is really isolating.”

To find out more visit Migrateful’s website or check out our story on Migrateful winning at the Urban Food Awards from October.

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