Pow­der­ham Food Fes­ti­val

Stella West-har­ling MBE, or­gan­iser of the chefs’ theatre at the Pow­der­ham Food Fes­ti­val tells fes­ti­val am­bas­sador JUDI SPIERS how her first car­ing role has lead to her new char­ity The Com­mu­nity Kitchen Trust

Devon Life - - Inside -

Ican’t wait to get on the chefs’ theatre stage this Oc­to­ber for the Pow­der­ham Food Fes­ti­val. The chefs have been as­sem­bled this year by a lady who has a lit­tle black book to die for if you are part of the culi­nary world.

She is Stella West-har­ling, founder and CEO of the Ash­bur­ton Cook­ery School, who in 2014 was awarded an MBE for services to hospi­tal­ity. She also hap­pens to be Pres­i­dent of the In­de­pen­dent Cook­ery Schools’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Stella is a woman who never stops. It’s not a case of not know­ing when to stop she sim­ply doesn’t see the need. At an age and a stage in life, even in the 21st cen­tury, when most peo­ple are think­ing of en­joy­ing the fruits of their labour Stella is still com­ing up with and im­ple­ment­ing great ideas.

One of her most re­cent has taken, as she says “seven years and some blind al­leys to come to fruition”.

It is the Dart­moor Com­mu­nity Kitchen Hub, a not for profit com­pany in par­tic­u­lar sup­port­ing the elderly and vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents in the com­mu­nity. Over the last 12 months Stella, along with a group of lo­cal chefs, has been get­ting up at 5 in the morn­ing to prep and cook over 12,000 hot two-course meals ready for de­liv­ery. No ad­di­tives or preser­va­tives or flavour­ings are used - only lo­cal pro­duce.

“Noth­ing added…noth­ing taken away,” she in­sists.

The im­por­tance of food lit­er­acy and sus­tain­able food have been at the core of all that Stella does from start­ing one of the first or­ganic restau­rants in the early ’80s, to Ash­bur­ton Cook­ery School and through to the In­de­pen­dent Cook­ery Schools’ As­so­ci­a­tion. As why has she em­barked on this mam­moth project? Well, that goes back to the early ’70s when she was a sin­gle work­ing mother, tak­ing busi­ness stud­ies at night in an ef­fort to get a bet­ter paid job, and moved into a ter­raced house with elderly next door neigh­bours.

“They were house­bound in their late seven­ties,” she ex­plains, “and had lived in that house for 50 years. Both were kind peo­ple who had no chil­dren and whose clos­est rel­a­tives had died. What be­came a sim­ple ges­ture of mowing their back lawn grad­u­ally be­came daily shared meals and other forms of sup­port un­til they both sadly died.”

Stella learned a lot dur­ing those years. “I learned about how self­less and dig­ni­fied they are in the face of ad­ver­sity. I learned about sto­icism around the in­evitable loss of move­ment, sight and hear­ing. I learned about grief in all of its guises.”

She learned how proud and in­de­pen­dent older peo­ple are. How they don’t want to be a nui­sance make a fuss.

“What bet­ter way of tack­ling health lone­li­ness and ex­clu­sion,” she asks, “than by break­ing bread, shar­ing food, tak­ing a meal to some­one, gal­vanis­ing peo­ple to join to­gether to fo­cus on their gift of com­pas­sion and giv­ing in their com­mu­nity?”

It is with this need in mind that a new char­ity, The Com­mu­nity Kitchen Trust, is be­ing formed. The Dart­moor Com­mu­nity Kitchen Hub is the first lo­cal hub, which will make up part of the char­ity, and is now part of a pi­lot study.

She is also work­ing to de­liver a chilled meals ser­vice to medium de­pen­dency res­i­dents on Greater Dart­moor cou­pled with a com­mu­nity café which will help tackle the huge is­sue of lone­li­ness, not just among older peo­ple, but also among many other res­i­dents who may be fi­nan­cially or so­cially ex­cluded from par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­mu­nity life.

“Mean­ing­ful change,” she in­sists “is about re­new­ing com­pas­sion, and bring­ing our el­ders and fel­low cit­i­zens ex­pe­ri­enc­ing so­cial iso­la­tion into a sup­port­ive com­mu­nity.”

She ex­plains: “Us­ing lo­cal pro­duc­ers for food, lo­cal peo­ple to cook, lo­cal schools for fundrais­ing and link­ing in with the lo­cal health services and pro­fes­sion­als are the next steps to­wards re­build­ing a com­pas­sion­ate and in­ter­de­pen­dent com­mu­nity.”

With an ethos like its no won­der this year’s chefs all said a re­sound­ing ‘ yes’ to Stella. She will even grace the stage her­self putting me through my paces. I don’t know what the culi­nary equiv­a­lent of a silk purse is, but what­ever it is I can guar­an­tee Stella knows how to make that sow’s ear tasty…and nu­tri­tious!

For a full pre­view of the Pow­der­ham Food Fes­ti­val, turn to pages 110-111

LEFT: Stella WestHar­ling is a woman who never stops

‘ What bet­ter way of tack­ling health, lone­li­ness and ex­clu­sion, than by break­ing bread- shar­ing food, tak­ing a meal to some­one?’

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