Cooking Project Leader at FoodCycle Islington
Retired former researcher Anne has been a volunteer at FoodCycle Islington for five years and can be found in the cooking in the kitchens of New River Baptist Church most weeks.
Known for her magical ability to create light and fluffy cakes out of almost any ingredient, the team has come to rely on her calm presence and encyclopedic knowledge of baking in the kitchen.
We had a chat with Anne about what attracted her to FoodCycle in the first place, what she enjoys most about volunteering and what has kept her coming back since her first FoodCycle session in October 2016…
Tell us how you came to be a volunteer at FoodCycle?
At the time I was volunteering at a social enterprise, Better Health Bakery in Hackney and I’d been there for ages; one day a week for over a year. I loved it but wanted a change but still something foodie and local to North London and one of my friend’s mentioned FoodCycle. I googled it and was instantly attracted to the ethos, particularly the fact it was vegetarian as I don’t eat meat and have no idea how to cook it! After waiting a while for a slot, I had my first shift in October 2016 and haven’t looked back.
What has kept you coming for that long?
I’m a creature of habit and if I find something I like, I’ll do it for a reasonable amount of time as long as I feel I’m not getting stale. I’ve done lots of volunteering since I retired, I used to read with children at a local shoot and did for years, and the bakery, but always felt I needed a change. The thing I love about FoodCycle is that no two sessions are the same and you’re doing it with a group of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, completely different to my usual group of friends. But over the years those people, the regular volunteers, have actually become my friends. We all recently did the Christmas meal together for the guests and its just so nice, and it keeps evolving. Also I love food, and I love to see people eating together, sharing home made food; and food that would be chucked if we hadn’t saved it and turned it into something delicious.
What are the benefits of volunteering with FoodCycle?
You learn new skills all the time in the FoodCycle kitchens, seeing other people cook and absorbing other people’s ideas. I find it hard now to cook from a recipe because I’ve gotten so good at looking at the ingredients in front of me and thinking, “what can I do with this?” I must have gotten more confidence since I started volunteering with FoodCycle, because in my past life I would shy away leading because I’m indecisive but it has made me think on the spot really. I’ve learnt that I can lead, that’s generally because the bunch of volunteers that turn up like food and it’s collaborative; and I’ve got better at delegating.
I’m usually a planner but with FoodCycle you are forced to think on your feet. Now I do feel it will be alright in the end, because it always is. It doesn’t have to be perfect, we can just make a nice meal. The amazing thing is, however much food you make, you generally end up matching the amount of food with the people. It’s the magic of FoodCycle!
It also just helps me so much to be with people that are lonely and feel like you are contributing something.
What has been your most memorable FoodCycle experience or meal?
I do remember a custard that just wouldn’t set then having all these jars and jars of chocolate hazelnut spread which we decided to put in the custard. It turned into the best chocolate sauce in the world. I can’t remember what we served it with but it was amazing.
Another time I remember a food delivery not coming until too late, so we had to peel oranges in a yard straight out of the van. We still managed to serve the pudding just in time!
Once I was leading in the kitchen and was telling everyone “we’ll do this and we’ll do that” and it turned out one of the volunteers was a chef at Ottolenghi’s restaurant. I didn’t find out until the end, by which time I’d been bossing him around for hours. So now I always ask people what their experience level is!
What’s the nicest thing a guest or other volunteer has said to you?
This week a man who was joining our community meal for the first time said at the end “this is the most fun I’ve had in ages.”
Anything else about volunteering with FoodCycle you’d like to share?
You may think you’re not a wonderful cook, but you will be fine. There are plenty of other people in the kitchen and out front with different skills and somehow we all compliment each other. I can bake but I am far from the best cook, but there’s usually someone else who can knock up a curry or a pasta, and suddenly you’re working in a team and you’ve created a three-course meal for 50 people. Come and have a go, you’ll get hooked like me.
Do you think there are particular benefits to volunteering for people like you who are retired?
I used to be an academic health researcher, number crunching and writing at a computer all day. The joy of being retired is being away from a desk, getting out and meeting people which is one of the things I love about FoodCycle. You learn from different people and you get different experiences. I’ve raved about it so much, my daughter now volunteers at FoodCycle Peckham!
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