What do you get if you assemble over a 150 budding chefs in London’s Borough Market, get top chef and School of Wok founder Jeremy Pang in charge and give all of them the motivation to feed a thousand of London’s food insecure? The answer is an incredible Wok For 1000 event that saw friendships made, Asian cookery skills developed, a huge amount of food prepared, and about 1400 people fed.
I was incredibly proud to be part of yesterday’s Wok For 1000 event as it was an amazing opportunity to understand what is already being done to help so many people that are short of food, and what more can be done to help them further.
To put it simply, food waste is criminal. Yet everyday businesses and individuals throw away huge amounts of unused and uneaten food. At the same time there are an increasing number of families in the UK that are struggling when it comes to putting food on the table. Use of food banks is increasing and also malnutrition and obesity are also on the rise as families are not able to afford the right kind of food, so cheaper, less nutritious food is consumed as a result.
Back in 2009 Jeremy Pang founded School of Wok (which quite seriously has one of the best names ever!) to teach Asian-inspired home cookery, using the underlying principle that cooking is something that is an important life skill, something that is accessible to everyone and also something that is fun. Jeremy is also passionate about reducing food waste. He therefore used the skills that School of Wok teach about how to prepare a nutritious meal in minutes whilst also reducing food waste to the masses with the Wok For 1000 event. 2017 was the second year that the event ran, with over 100 attendees who had paid to have a three hour cookery masterclass from School of Wok chefs, under Jeremy’s excellent guidance.
When I arrived a couple of hours in the hall at London’s Borough Market was full of tables of excited chefs who had already prepared a couple of dishes and were moving on to making wontons together. Companies had taken part in Wok For 1000 as team building events for their staff and it was wonderful to see the various teams working together preparing food for a common goal.
The aim of the day was to make a thousand meals that could then be distributed across London. This part of the plan is where the amazing charity Plan Zheroes comes into the story. Formed by three individuals who came together with the aim of inspiring and helping to connect businesses with charities, to give surplus food to those who need it, they now work doing exactly that. The meals created as part of the WokFor1000 event were distributed by Plan Zheroes and their army of volunteers, and all profits from the event went to the charity.
Not only were the participants being taught excellent cookery skills, but there was also a huge amount of fun in the hall at Borough Market. Whether that be from Jeremy himself wandering around with a microphone and talking to people as he went, or from the music that they had blaring out of the speakers as we prepared everything. People were dancing and singing along whilst they cooked (not whilst holding sharp knives I should add from a Health and Safety viewpoint!) and really enjoying themselves. When all the cooking was done we also cleared up together and sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labours. The food was delicious and it was also so nice to actually sit down together, share the meal and talk about what we as a group had achieved. Proper team building stuff.
Whilst we were all gathered together Jeremy also gave thanks to the companies that had supported the event, either financially or in terms of donating things. As expected a big cheer went up for the company who provided the Tsingtao beer that we enjoyed whilst eating, but equally big thanks was given to companies who provided some of the raw ingredients for the meals that we were going to go on and distribute.
This also gave us an opportunity to hear from Plan Zheroes and some of the charities that they support. The work they do is so vital, especially with the way things are going in the UK at the moment. They have a wonderful online community where businesses can upload information about surplus food that they have to donate. Nearby charities receive notification about this available food and can claim it. Plan Zheroes volunteers and transporters then get involved by helping to get the food from the businesses to those who want it.
At the end of the Wok for 1000 event I was lucky enough to be able to join a couple of members of the Plan Zheroes team as they went to deliver some of the meals we’d made to a local sheltered housing complex, just a short walk from Borough Market. Lucy Brown House is a complex of small flats with a communal lounge area where residents can meet and take part in a variety of social activities together. Some residents from Lucy Brown are regular visitors to a food distribution event that Plan Zheroes runs in Borough Market and there they are able to select surplus food from some of the market and take it back to share with other residents.
We delivered a selection of meals to Lucy Brown House which they are going to enjoy as part of a communal lunch today. We were also lucky enough to meet one of the residents who regularly attends the food distribution in the market. She was very keen to tell us all about the benefits to all the residents of being able to have access to food like this to help them all eat better – especially when able to get hold of some of the “denture friendly food” that many Lucy Brown residents are fond of! Sheltered Housing Officer Richard Geary set up the link with Plan Zheroes and she was full of praise for him for doing so – and also very keen that I tell you all about the award that Richard recently won for his outstanding work there. We talked about how food can be such an important part of people’s lives. Not only in terms of nutrition, but also as a social thing. A way of a community coming together to share a meal together. She’s got grand plans for more social gatherings around food at Lucy Brown House and it would be wonderful if her plans could come to fruition.
I came away from the Wok For 1000 event with new skills in wonton making (something which I never though I’d be learning to do!) but also so much more. I got a real sense of how important it is that events like Wok for 1000 are used to draw attention to charities like Plan Zheroes that are doing so much to help everyday people. I got a small glimpse of that with my visit to Lucy Brown house and it was wonderful to see firsthand how what we had done that day benefited people. I’ve always been passionate about how communities need to work together to support their members who need help at one time or another and Wok for 1000 was a perfect example of this.
Huge thanks to School of Wok for inviting me along to the event and all the work that they and Borough Market did yesterday to support the work of Plan Zheroes.
To find out more about School of Wok and the courses that they run click here. More details about Plan Zheroes and their work can be found on their website where you can also volunteer your services or donate to support their work.
Disclaimer: I was invited along to the Wok for 1000 event as a guest and received a School of Wok goodie bag for attending. All opinions remain my own.