Thorpe St Andrew fairy godmother is a godsend in the kitchen
Rachel Buller met employment law expert turned cook Katrina Parsons whose new business is all about getting confident in the kitchen.
As much as I love cooking with my son, somehow it always seems slightly more stressful than it needs to be.
Hot pans, raw eggs cracked on the floor instead of the bowl, flour forming a dusty trail through the house – and then there is coming up with something other than buns or cookies to make. That's where the real trick is.
Getting children excited about food, especially varied and fresh ingredients, is so important and a brilliant way to do that – especially if you have a fussy eater – is to get cooking.
At a time when childhood obesity and the worrying list of related health conditions are hardly ever out of the news, ensuring your children eat well is hugely important but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start – especially if you are lacking confidence in the kitchen yourself.
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Like many people in the current economic climate, Katrina Parsons found herself out of work but decided to turn a negative into a very big positive and has launched her new business The Kitchen Fairy Godmother, which she hopes will not only get parents cooking with their little ones, but also show how much fun it can be.
Having been made redundant in the summer, she finally found the courage she needed to launch her own business.
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'I was working in employment law in human resources for AXA in Ipswich, and worked partly at home and partly in the office but it was just really hard to balance with a family. Being part time I just felt I wasn't able to get as involved in work as I'd have liked and still see my children,' says Katrina, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew.
'I was talking to a friend one night when she had come round for tea with her children and I said I was making chicken casserole. When she asked me which recipe book I used she was surprised when I told her I just made it up. I told her she could easily do it but she has no confidence in the kitchen and, laughingly, said I could teach her.
'Over the next few months I thought about it a lot and came up with a business plan but every time I thought about giving up work, I also kept realising I probably couldn't afford to. Then I got made redundant in July and that was that. The decision was made for me,' she says with a smile.
She enrolled on the First Steps to Self Employment course and the Basics 4 Business course run by Broadland District Council for free, which she describes as 'invaluable'.
'They gave me a real insight into running my own business, and focused on both the practical and personal issues to consider. I feel very lucky to live in the Broadland area – it really is a great programme. Not only did it teach me the basics and things I might not have thought of, I have met so many people who are a great source of support and advice. We meet regularly and some of the people on the course have become good friends.'
Over the past few months she has been writing up the recipes which, for years, she had committed to memory and a friend who never cooks has been her guinea pig.
'He has now made chicken casserole, lamb stew, chilli and he is about to do his first Sunday lunch for friends – he has never even had friends over for dinner before,' she says proudly. 'I want it to be lots of fun.'
The decision to go out to people's homes for the lessons rather than having them at her house or in a hired kitchen premises was a deliberate one.
'Some people get very flustered in the kitchen, they find it enormously stressful, even cooking for their family. My aim is to change that, to boost their confidence. My business is aimed at people who are not very keen cooks, who don't know much about food and, most importantly, might want to know how to cook but don't have any confidence. If you go to cookery lessons then the chances are you already have those basic food skills and also if you go to a cookery lesson with all the fancy equipment in a huge kitchen then you build another barrier, thinking you couldn't possibly achieve it at home.'
And I can vouch for that following a lesson with my son, Zach, and me in our 1960s kitchen which is the exact opposite of the description 'ultra modern and spacious'.
Now Zach is a great eater, among his favourite things are olives and anchovies, so I have no problems getting him to try new food But he is only four and, like many parents, I am preparing myself for the 'no thanks, I only want chips and sausages' phase so I feel now is the time to encourage his fascination with food.
But, with work and a baby thrown in the mix, mammoth cookery sessions are not always high on my list of priorities and as I only ever cook cakes or biscuits with him, it doesn't make for a great dinner.
So the idea of making food which can be part of dinner, which he can safely help with, is an appealing one – especially with our limited space.
During our three-hour lesson, the aim was to make home-made pizza, fruit tarts and mini fritattas. It sounded optimistic, especially knowing what children's attention spans are like – but with two children herself, Katrina is also well aware of this and plans her lessons accordingly.
It's very organised and hands on, with Zach soon stirring things on the hob, scooping up ingredients and carefully rolling out pastry.
This isn't high-end cookery, these are the basics, the things your mother used to cook yet have skipped generations, using simple, fresh ingredients – and most importantly things that appeal to children.
She says her children, Kate, nine, and Molly, six, both love cookery, but she adds: 'I try and do as much with them as possible, but I know it isn't easy. They would sit down all day and watch cookery shows, they love it and the little one wants to be a chef. I don't think you will find a child who doesn't like cooking if they are given the chance.'
But it isn't just children who Katrina is hoping to reach; she has already launched courses for adults and is running special Christmas lessons to help people prepare for the big day.
She has also created lessons for students – a group who she believes seem to have skipped learning some basic cooking skills.
'It's a great going away gift for parents to give their children. So many mums worry about what their kids will eat when they head off to university, and if they can manage to avoid a diet of takeaways for just one night a week then it's a start,' she smiles.
For the future, she would like to try to start some community-based lessons, working with elderly people and perhaps schools and nurseries.
'I am doing a teaching course at the moment for that reason, so perhaps I can work with school groups. But also there are so many people in sheltered accommodation who have become widowers, whose mums cooked for them, then when they got married, their wives cooked for them, and then these previously well men decline as they don't know how to feed themselves. I have seen it myself and it is terribly sad and so easy to solve.'
Katrina is determined to make her massive career change work and is passionate about food and the lesson certainly went down well in our house.
As we tuck into the pizza, Zach asks whether she will be coming every day. I'm not sure if this is praise indeed for Katrina, or a veiled insult to my cooking.
Lessons start from �75 for three hours. For more information see www.kitchenfairygodmother.co.uk