Lucy Pearson, Student Dietitian
My experience as a placement student at the 'Ministry of Food', Leeds Kirkgate Market.
I recently completed a six-week work placement at Jamie's Ministry of Food in Leeds Kirkgate Market.
I had been looking forward to this since I arranged it back in February, but was quite anxious to start with. From what I could see when I popped in to visit, the cookery classes seemed quite busy and lively, with the teacher running the lesson and another staff member and volunteer to help out. It was hard to see where I might fit in and be useful. However, I needn't have worried! During my placement, right from day one, there was always something to do, get involved in, or help out with. My duties involved helping to set up for the classes, ensuring that there was sufficient ingredients and equipment, and some days getting the shopping for the classes, which was all locally sourced from the market! I was also on-hand in the classes to help any students that may have needed assistance and, of course, to do the all-important washing up!
I found the classes really interesting and fun: I picked up quite a few new cooking tips and was inspired by some new recipes and ideas that I would have never thought of before, such as putting cinnamon in chilli con carne (which makes a huge difference!) and putting oil in a hot pan, not cold, as it expands when warm which means you use much less, saving you money!
I also enjoyed chatting to the students about their experiences and what had led them to attend the course. I found a huge variety of reasons for attending, and two examples include: a retired man who had been advised by his GP to lose weight, so he wanted to start eating properly but, as a recently widowed man, whose wife did the cooking for their entire marriage, he had no idea where to start. He said the course was perfect for him and he'd been trying out all of the recipes at home. Another student who I spoke to each week was a girl who was recovering from an eating disorder. She had been advised to attend the course as part of her recovery and said that, week by week, she was finding it easier. I met her towards the middle of the 10 week course and she told me how nervous she had been about attending at the beginning, being confronted with so much food and having to handle it in front of other people. I spoke with her each week and noticed that she was becoming more comfortable and confident, and she said the course had helped her so much that she wanted to sign up for the follow-on classes too.
As well as the cookery classes, I was also involved in making and giving out tasters. These were a different Jamie Oliver recipe each day (depending on what food was available), which I would make and then give samples out to people walking past. This gave me chance to draw people's attention to the food centre as well as talk to them about the recipe and the cookery course. From doing this, quite a lot of people actually went on to sign up, and many others said they hadn't seen it before and were really interested in what went on. This was a great way to raise the profile of the centre and get a few people signed up to do the courses by telling them about what it involved. It was also a great chance to talk to people about food and cooking, whether they cooked at home and, if not, then why not?
As well as the cookery centre, the unit in Kirkgate market also has another side which is run by 'Zest, /health for Life', a Leeds-based charity supporting the centre and aiming to increase awareness of health issues in some of the most deprived areas of Leeds. The aim of this side is to provide a “drop-in” centre where people could call in for health information and resources, as well as to be referred to other organisations such as smoking cessation and weight-loss services in the community. I found this part of the placement to be really useful in dealing with people's questions, which could range from asking information on the cookery courses and new ideas for recipes, to advice on weight loss and eating well with conditions such as diabetes or IBS.
This was quite a challenge as each person who came in had a different enquiry and set of circumstances. However, as a student Dietitian, I found this to be great preparation for my future career, particularly in general clinics. I also found that, as the weeks went on, my confidence when dealing with people really increased, mostly due to the lively, friendly and comfortable atmosphere of the 'Ministry of Food' and it's great staff and volunteers!
I truly enjoyed my six weeks there and was sad to leave. However, I take with me useful cooking tips, new recipes, memories of great people I met, including staff, students and volunteers as well as the wonderful customers of Leeds market, who were a pleasure to talk to each day and have helped me more than they know with my preparation and training to become a Dietitian.
Thank you Jamie's Ministry of Food and the people of Leeds!