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
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?’