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Pupils to feature in new cook book by MasterChef contestant

Pupils have been given a special Christmas present ‘“ starring roles in a cook book written by TV MasterChef quarter finalist Matei Baran.

The children, from Hope Wood Academy in Easington Colliery, helped him prepare a festive afternoon tea to feature in his book – Big Chef Little Chef – which is published in January.

“What a fabulous and emotional day,” said Matei. “One of the most amazing cooking experiences from my life.”

Ten years ago Matei moved to the North East from his native Romania and competed in MasterChef in 2016. He says Big Chef Little Chef is all about “cooking for kids with kids” and it also celebrates the bond he – Big Chef – has with his son, Armin.

Armin, Little Chef, is six-years-old and was born with cystic fibrosis. “Just like him, these kids never let their problems stop them smiling,” said Matei. “I’m so proud of putting this book together and having the opportunity to meet and work alongside such wonderful children. I know it’s going to make me a better person and a better dad.”

More than 200 children – aged from two to 19 – attend the Academy, which caters for young people with a diverse range of special educational needs. Deputy head teacher Vickie Gorton said learning to cook is extremely important for the pupils to both build their independence and develop their life skills.

“We’re always encouraging the pupils to try new things and that includes different types of food,” said Mrs Gorton, “It was fantastic having Matei here and the children really enjoyed helping him. We are so proud that they and Hope Wood have been chosen to take part in Big Chef Little Chef.”

One of the pupils – 11-year-old Tristan – said he was going to use his new cooking skills by making Christmas biscuits at home straight after school. “That makes it all worthwhile,” said Matei. “I’d been thinking about this book for a while and when I saw a photograph of Armin and me walking side by side, the idea of calling it Big Chef, Little Chef came to me.”

The photograph was the inspiration for the image which will feature on the book’s front cover and on the little chefs’ aprons.

“Every dad is proud of his children and Armin is so brave and happy that I wanted us to do something really special together. Eating healthy food is so important – and not just for children with cystic fibrosis. Learning about ingredients and cooking when you are very young means you have a lifetime of understanding and enjoyment of good food ahead of you.”

As well as eating well, Armin has to take dozens of tablets each day. He has regular physiotherapy and takes part in a number of physical activities to help him keep well. Proceeds from the book will go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Its regional community fund-raiser Gemma Williamson said: “As well as raising money the book will also help to get people to understand. I think it’s fantastic and really inspiring. The parents of children with cystic fibrosis will really love the idea, especially all the different recipes.”

The Hope Wood pupils will help launch Big Chef Little Chef on January 26 at Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books – in Newcastle. There they will meet the 15 other junior chefs who have taken part in the project.

Anybody wishing to join them at the launch of Big Chef Little Chef should e-mail
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TV Chef reveals suicide bid as he launches Kitchen Therapy

Tyneside’s TV chef Matei Baran – who is providing Kitchen Therapy for people with mental health problems – has spoken for the first time about the time he tried to kill himself.

Romanian-born Matei moved to the North East 10 years ago and has worked in the kitchens of a number of high-profile restaurants and hotels. In 2016 he reached the quarter final of MasterChef: The Professionals and last he month started a pioneering cooking course called Kitchen Therapy to help people overcome their problems.

Forty-one-year-old Matei, who lives in Wallsend, said working in a kitchen had saved him on numerous occasions – particularly after he took an overdose when he was 20.

“In the kitchen I found myself in a place which gave me back my confidence, took away my bad thoughts and helped me move forward,” he said. 

“Being involved in this project is amazing as I want to help and support people who share these emotional struggles. I want to show them that a kitchen can actually be a friendly place where you can find peace and motivation.”

Matei is providing Kitchen Therapy in partnership with the Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation. Around a dozen trainees, some with no kitchen experience, are taking part in the eight-week course which will culminate in them cooking a five-course tasting menu for paying guests at two of Teesside’s top restaurants.

Earlier this year Matei published a recipe book – Big Chef Mini Chef – which was inspired by his young son who suffers from the life-limiting disease Cystic Fibrosis.  Proceeds from the book go the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation’s Events and Fundraising Coordinator Alan Geddes said: “I think with the traumas Matei has gone through in his personal life he’s decided that he wants to give something back – and that’s fantastic.

“It’s about giving them the opportunity to learn new skills. But I suppose, more importantly, it’s about them getting inspired and building their self-esteem to go out into the world a much more confident person.”

The trainees are being supported by Step Forward Tees Valley – which helps local people overcome barriers to work and training – and the Foundation’s own employability scheme.

Martin Jones is a Senior Employment Engagement Officer for Changing Lives which is part of the Step Forward Tees Valley programme.

“Some have worked in the kitchen, some don’t even cook at home and others totally avoid the kitchen, but that’s due to their mental health issues, their anxiety and depression,” he said.

“This is solving that.  For them it’s a safe place for them to feel relaxed in a supportive environment. Because Matei’s so relaxed and passionate about what he does, he encourages that in other people.”

One of the students is Megan Cook, who is 22 and from Billingham. She worked in catering from the age of 16 and became a team leader at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. “It really raised my confidence,” she said.

“But I left there for an apprenticeship and that completely obliterated it. This is about getting my confidence back in the kitchen and show that I can do it.

“We’re all different people with different circumstances but have come together for the same thing.” 

Thirty-eight-year-old Emma Stephenson from Middlesbrough said: “I eventually want to work in the hotel industry. This would be help me decide whether it is right for me. I think it’s brilliant.  Hopefully I can get a job at the end of it.”

The first milestone for the trainees is on Sunday 28th July at the Riverside Stadium when they will make canapes for MFC Foundation’s partners before being introduced to the crowd during half-time at the Middlesbrough F.C versus St Etienne friendly.

Then, on 19th September, they will prepare a five-course tasting menu for guests at Al Forno’s in Middlesbrough. On 17th October they take over the kitchen at Chadwicks Inn in Maltby and on 26th November they will present a special Christmas Feast at Middlesbrough College’s Waterside Brasserie Restaurant.

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Tynemouth chef launches new children’s cook book

A chef who overcame a legal battle with the owner of a defunct motorway restaurant chain is celebrating publishing his book in honour of his son.

Matei Baran, executive head chef at the Salt Cove in Tynemouth, decided to write Big Chef Little Chef to encourage children to learn how to cook healthy meals and raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Matei, who reached the quarter final of TV’s Master Chef: The Professionals in 2015, was inspired by his six-year-old son Armin, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

But after being threatened with legal action by the Kuwaiti-based owner of the Little Chef brand ordering him to stop using Big Chef Little Chef, he changed the name to Big Chef Mini Chef and a last minute re-design and print went ahead.

And last Saturday, Matei launched the book at a special event at Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s community fundraiser in the north Gemma Williamson said: “As well as raising money, it will also help to get people to understand.

“I think it’s fantastic and really inspiring. The parents of children with cystic fibrosis will really love the idea, especially all the different recipes.”

Before the launch, Matei spent time in the kitchen to deliver a master class to students at Cramlington Learning Village, who are studying GCSE Food Preparation and Nutrition and as part of the qualification will have to prepare a three-course meal.

The school’s head of food Julia Smith said: “High skill and professional presentation are vital for high grades in practical assessments so Matei’s demonstration and expert advice has been invaluable. The students are extremely enthusiastic about their course and several of them want to work in the food industry so it’s great for them to see such a top chef at work.”

Matei said: “It’s all about cooking with kids, for kids.

“I want to encourage children from an early age to eat well, but also begin to learn about cooking. It’s one of the most important life skills so the earlier you begin the better.”

He added: “It was fantastic to meet the students at Cramlington and I hope it’s helped them. The thrill of any chef is to see people enjoying the food you’ve made and they seemed to like it.”

“The problem with Little Chef has made it far more stressful than was necessary, but the main thing is that the book is now here and it’s going to help all the mini chefs like Armin and his little friends and raise money for such an important charity.”

Big Chef Mini Chef is available now through Matei’s website

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