“It’s been really busy. We’re in week 8 and so far we’re coming up to our 6000th meal.” Trainee chef Benji Nathan doesn’t like to have nothing to do. When faced with the prospect of no work for weeks or maybe even months because of the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown, some people might be tempted to kick back a bit and relax.
Not Benji. In addition to his online studies with Westminster Kingsway College, he works for his cousin Adam in his catering business Adam Nathan Catering, preparing delicious dishes for the company’s clients. When the lockdown was announced in March, Adam asked Benji if he could help out more, as Adam wanted to continue creating dishes for any of the firm’s clients who still needed them and to help support the NHS at the same time.
As Benji explains: “A friend of Adam’s works at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Central London. She told us that many of the staff weren’t eating properly, because they are really busy and the canteen is closed now, because of the virus. We thought we could help, so whenever we get an order for our meals from a paying customer, we offer them the chance to spend an extra £10 to ‘donate a meal’ to the hospital. With the help of Richard Delow, who trained to be a chef at Westminster Kingsway College too, we’re averaging 130 meals for the hospital each week, which is all thanks to the generosity of our customers.”
As well as catering for the company’s customers and the donated NHS meals, Benji also bakes for a north London community organisation called You Donate We Deliver, which provides free meals for NHS workers. Since it was started by a north London mum and her daughter at the end of March, You Donate We Deliver has gone from helping a handful people to feeding thousands of staff in hospitals across north London every day, with the help of a small army of delivery drivers and chefs like Benji, coordinated through six ‘hubs’ across the region.
Benji continues: “When I leave college I want to be a chef. I am studying on the college’s Pastry diploma to expand my knowledge and become a more well-rounded professional. So every week at home with my family, I bake around 150 portions – cakes mostly – for my local You Donate We Deliver hub in Totteridge. It’s wonderful to be able to do what I love, while helping the NHS at the same time!”
But that isn’t all. As well as baking for NHS staff, and the catering work and NHS meals he prepares with Adam and Richard, Benji also has to keep up his Westminster Kingsway college studies, even while it’s closed. He is in his third year at the college and, before the lockdown, was studying at our Victoria campus full-time. Now working at home or from Adam Nathan Catering’s St Albans kitchen, Benji has been able to continue learning and has enjoyed watching the college’s ‘lockdown’ online Culinary Masterclasses series too. “The other chefs in the kitchen and I have watched the Masterclasses and really enjoyed them. The next Masterclass is with Sarah Mountain [a well-known Pastry Chef] and I’m really looking forward to that!”
As you’d expect, Benji’s Level 3 Patisserie Diploma course has many practical elements, so, although he can’t attend college and practice his craft in the kitchens there, he’s definitely keeping his eye in at home. “I am very busy doing college work, plus all the meals I’m doing with Adam, and baking for You Donate We Deliver. I love it and it’s very rewarding!
“I have also been practicing other baking techniques and learning new skills too. For example, I’ve been learning how to make flowers and things like that out of fondant icing, to decorate cakes. It’s my Grandma’s 95th birthday soon and I’m going to make her a cake and hand-pipe some flowers to go on it. I hope she likes it.”