We sat down with teacher and home cook Farah Hamid who has been working with the South London Gallery on Flavour Cravers. Flavour Cravers is a dynamic programme that celebrates food, culture and community at home, at school and our neighbourhood. As part of the programme, Hamid has been leading cooking classes with a local primary school in the SLG Fire Station kitchen.
We spoke to her about her experiences working with the children, found out more about sustainable and balanced eating and asked her where her favourite places to eat in London are.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got into cooking?
Well, I love eating, I think that’s just a natural progression into cooking. My mom was just the most amazing cook, she could make something out of nothing. And all very effortlessly, usually with a glass of wine in her hand. That’s when I actually started thinking about what cooking actually was, because I’d sit and chat to her while she was cooking. I remember doing a few very unsuccessful bakes that my poor father had to eat.
I’m a Montessori teacher by profession. When my son was going off to uni, he brought friends to the house for food. And they said, “Oh, we better not get used to this. It’s going to be Pot Noodle from now on.” So I said to them, “Just give me one weekend, just one day, every week for four weeks. You’re going to be on a budget, and you’re just going to learn how to cook some basic things.” And they just loved it. I used to run a few classes for the children going off to uni because I just feel so strongly that everyone needs to learn how to cook. Then I started running classes for adults and I had everyone from a 70 year old man who had just lost his wife and had never cooked before, to a 16 year old who didn’t want to be in school and was looking for something different. I was doing these cooking classes for men, beginners, and it just grew from that. I just love teaching people how to cook.
What do you love most about the experience of cooking?
It would have to be feeding people. I am such a feeder! That’s what gives me the biggest thrill. I love the actual cooking process and creating but what drives me is actually feeding people.
There are lots of conversations happening around food and sustainability at the moment. Do you have any tips on how people can be more conscious of the environmental impact of what they eat?
I feel we really need to go back to eating seasonally, that reduces so much carbon footprint. People have forgotten what food tastes like when it’s seasonally ready. So if we could go back to a simpler way of eating, just eating when the food is ready.
I also think it’s important to introduce people to vegan food that isn’t replicating meat. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, I had a dish that tasted exactly like pulled pork”. I want people to say “I had this amazing bean dish”. You won’t believe what you can do with beans to make them taste so good! People who are going vegan and vegetarian need to think more about eating proper plant based products rather than trying to replicate them. India’s been eating vegan for centuries without a Quorn slice in sight!
What does healthy eating mean to you?
If I had to sum it up, I would use the word balance, just balance in everything. Balance in life is so important. And it’s absolutely the same for eating. It would take all the joy out of my life if I felt like I couldn’t eat a piece of chocolate or a pudding. Nobody ever got ill from eating a good piece of chocolate or a pudding once in a while.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing with the South London Gallery and Oliver Goldsmiths Primary School? What have you enjoyed the most about working with us?
We’ve been working with Year 4 classes, teaching them about the origins of some basic food groups. We wanted children to learn about the diversity of food and how the same food product is eaten in different ways all over the world. I think what I’ve loved the most is seeing children come in and get excited that they’re actually going to get their hands dirty. That satisfaction, and that feeling of accomplishment that they get is just, it’s such such a high, you know, it’s just amazing to watch that. By the time they’re leaving the so excited that they’ve created this dish. It’s been amazing for us to witness how the children have behaved towards vegetables. Without fail with every group, when the kids have seen our pile of vegetables, have said “no, I’m never going to eat that”, “I hate that”. And practically everyone in the group has walked away saying, “we’re definitely going to eat that again”, “I think this is delicious”. That is the most rewarding thing, being able to change their minds just a little bit or help them to see food differently.
There are some amazing places to eat in London. Do you have any favourite restaurants or places to bring people for good food in the city?
One of my places to go to is The Brass Rail. It’s in Selfridges, so it sounds fancy, but it’s not! They do the best Salt Beef Sandwich ever. It’s such a lovely place. I’ve never been there and been disappointed. It’s very American in style. You get that gorgeous rye bread with the caraway seeds and it’s just beautiful, delicious. Another one of my favourites is a place called Brasserie Zédel and I used to love this place called Princi, on Wardour Street. It’s like a cafe in Milan! They had a little pizza section, ginormous slabs of Italian focaccia bread, massive salads and the best coffee.
If a young person wanted to learn how to cook, what do you think is the best thing to do to start learning? Do you have any top kitchen tips?
Trust the children. Let them have a knife and watch them, let them do things! It is so important to have that hands on experience. I think a lot of children nowadays are becoming really interested in cooking with MasterChef and Bake Off.
I think taking children shopping is so important. They did the survey not so long ago, and it was shocking to see the percentage of kids that thought cheese grew on trees! They thought potatoes came in a wedge shape, because they’d never seen anything different. It’s so important to let children see the natural state of things before you cook them. Take them to the shop and show them what onions look like, let them see them in different colours. Cooking is not just about standing at a table and chopping and stirring. Knowing ingredients and learning about them is so important.