2 June 2023

From belly to heart, these community cooking workshops are feeding the Bega Valley

| Claire Sams
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People preparing food

These workshops aim to keep the community fed and connected, such as in Eden (pictured above). Photo: Sapphire Community Projects Inc/Facebook.

The name of a series of community cooking workshops reflects what the organiser says you get from them – a combination of cooking, conversation and connection.

Everything participants need for the Chop Chat Chew workshops are provided, meaning they need to simply turn up for five weeks to learn new cooking skills or hone existing ones.

Sapphire Community Projects founder and secretary Christine Welsh said the idea behind the workshops was to improve community connection.

“The purpose of the workshops is to get people together, doing a fun activity, to reduce social isolation.

“We’re not turning out master chefs, but we’re having fun around food.

“When you cook in a group, it really takes your mind off things and you become less self-conscious.”

Dishes cooked have included chicken liver pate, beef Wellington, a chicken salad and a pavlova that became an Eton mess.

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The workshops are funded through a grant from Coordinare, the Primary Health Network (PHN) for South Eastern New South Wales.

“We applied for it under the argument that isolation is bad for one’s mental health.

“We felt that doing an activity of something as fundamental as cooking and eating brings people together without them feeling shy,” Ms Welsh said.

To date there has been a wide variety of participants.

“The people that we’ve had get involved so far have ranged from people who are living on their own but sick of their own cooking, to people who live out of town and want something social to do, to someone who had an acquired brain injury and came to the workshops with his carer,” Ms Welsh said.

“Another person came who has a debilitating illness, and we’ve got a few people who are still hurting from the bushfires.”

Ms Welsh said participants had grown in not just skill, but confidence, such as a woman who had recently immigrated to Australia and made community connections with other Bega Valley residents through the workshops.

“It’s one little example, but it’s wonderful to see that people are doing this and they’re looking after each other and caring for each other,” Ms Welsh said.

“Some people have also learned things that they didn’t know, or they have tried foods they’ve not tried before.

“They’ve become a little bit more adventurous when it comes to food, they understand a little bit more about nutrition and how to cook good food cheaply.”

The Chop Chat Chew workshops are led by volunteers.

“It’s not a workshop where you sit around the table and tell us your troubles,” Ms Welsh said.

“While you’re cooking, you might be chatting to each other, in a casual and very enjoyable way.”

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Ms Welsh said the organisation was looking to run future workshops in Bega, Pambula, Cobargo and other locations.

But for this to happen, she said, Sapphire Community Projects needed volunteers to come on board to lead the workshops.

“We can provide full training and support.

“The type of volunteer we want isn’t always a master chef – we’re after somebody who likes food, who likes people and is kind to people,” Ms Welsh said.

Sapphire Community Projects also operates the Sapphire Community Pantry, a mobile pantry that visits Bemboka fortnightly, as well as Ricky’s Place in Bega.

Those looking to get involved in the Chop Chat Chew workshops as a volunteer or participant can call Ms Welsh on 0438 407 364 or contact her via email. More available on the project is available on the Sapphire Community Pantry website.

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