Norfolk chef runs project to get people cooking

Nick Buck, who runs Joy of Food, teaching people cooking skills. Photo: Steve Adams

Nick Buck, who runs Joy of Food, teaching people cooking skills. Photo: Steve Adams

Nick Buck was inspired to cook by Jamie Oliver – and now runs free classes for anyone from teenagers excluded from school to bereaved pensioners.

Nick, of Thorpe St Andrew, runs The Joy of Food project, set up to help some of the most disadvantaged people in Norfolk learn how to make simple, cheap and nutritious meals.

It is currently working with Age UK Norfolk to teach older men cooking

skills.These Kitchen Kings classes are proving so successful that a new course started in New Costessey this month and there is a waiting list for lessons all over the county.

Maddie Handsley of Age UK Norfolk said: 'I'd been coming across men getting older and experiencing life changes such as divorce and bereavement. Or their partners became ill. Traditionally in that generation, it's the women who were in the kitchen. It's not true of everyone, obviously, but in general the women did the cooking.

'We have people who come in and have never made a piece of toast. Others might be able to do themselves scrambled egg, but not a lasagne.'

And it is not just the actual chopping, whisking and baking. Many men have never budgeted for their meals or worked out a balanced menu.

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With an increasing number of older men living alone, the free, four-week Kitchen Kings course, is aimed at men aged over 55, with little or no experience of cooking, who want to learn how to make simple, low-cost, healthy and nourishing meals.

Nick, of Thorpe St Andrew, was a Norfolk police officer for 30 years and said 'My wife used to do all the cooking and then I started to watch Jamie Oliver and it became a bit of a passion!'

As he neared the end of his police career he enrolled on a cookery course at Norwich City College. When he began volunteering with The Joy of Food it became apparent he was the ideal person to help ex-offenders, or excluded youngsters learn to cook.

The project was set up with a Big Lottery grant by the NHS and is now funded by Norfolk County Council and teaches kitchen skills to groups including people living in homeless and probation hostels, young parents, children excluded from school and elderly widowers.

'The one thing we try and give everyone is confidence. We've had some young girls who didn't even know how to crack an egg. By the end of the course they have the confidence to produce something healthy, and to a tight budget, for themselves or their families,' said Nick.

'I love doing it. As a police officer I often saw the bad side of people. We were there because something had gone wrong. Now it's nice to be in a position to bring out the best in people and help them.'

The Kitchen Kings classes have been so popular that a new course began this month in New Costessey, and there is a waiting list of men all over the county, eager to don aprons and oven gloves and learn to cook.

With the success of the scheme, new trainers are now needed too.

'They don't need to be Delia!' said Maddie.

'They just need to be competent cooks and over 18. My vision is to extend the courses all over Norfolk but this depends on finding venues and volunteers.'

Volunteers are fully trained and can claim expenses.

Current Kitchen Kings courses are running in Diss and New Costessey and a new course begins in Watton next month.

Anyone interested attending a course, or becoming a Kitchen King volunteer, can contact Maddie Handsley on 01603 785252 or email