TV Master Chef Matei Baran’s preparations for his new community café have been given a major boost by children he has taught to cook.

Nine months ago Chef Matei was invited to work with a group of students at the Haskel School, an independent Jewish special school in Gateshead in North East England.

His weekly sessions have had a major impact on the children, aged between 12 and 15, who – when they heard about his café – were only too happy to grab a paintbrush.

The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop opens at the Stepney Banks Stables in Newcastle on 1 February and will support the work of the riding school which has created opportunities for thousands of young people over the last 25 years.

At the café Matei, who in 2016 reached the quarter final of Master Chef: the Professionals, will run regular free cooking sessions for children and parents as part of his campaign to make the North East a healthier place – and the children and teachers from Haskel School will support him every step of the way.

Mr Schauder, the head of the school’s senior division, said Matei’s classes had been of huge benefit – even encouraging some of the children to like vegetables.  “Besides the cooking element, they are learning about knife skills and kitchen safety. They are also picking up social skills as well.  It’s therapy for them – just being in a group together – and we would never get them to sit together in a regular therapy session. They love it.” he said.

Matei will continue to hold classes at the school after he opens his café, which is nearly ready to open thanks to the children’s help. “We’ll always looking for opportunities for the kids to help out in the community and Matei needed help in getting his café ready, so I thought it would be a good start if we put them both together. The kids absolutely loved it, so it was a win-win situation,” said Mr Schauder.

Chef Matei said working with the children was a privilege and their progress showed how cooking was so beneficial. “They’re a great bunch of kids and it’s been a lot of fun. I was so grateful for their help in the café. The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop is such an exciting project and this has been a great way to start it off,” he said.

As well as helping children through cooking, Matei has developed a programme called Kitchen Therapy to support adults struggling with their mental well-being. The 12-week course, run in partnership with Middlesbrough Football Club’s Foundation, culminates with the novice chefs preparing a meal for paying guests.

The first Kitchen Therapy project resulted in three of the participants securing jobs.  The second course has just been launched in East Cleveland.

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