Winner of master chef, founder of Mexican street-food chain Wahaca and mother-of-two, Thomasina Miers, tells Lisa Carter about her latest food initiative to get kids into growing, cooking and eating food…
Thomasina’s impressive career kicked off when her imaginative culinary expertise won the hearts and taste buds of John Torode and Gregg Wallace on Masterchef in 2005. Having been brought up by parents with an “immaculate attitude towards food”, Thomasina learnt to focus on good quality ingredients, skillfully cooked in an old-fashioned, now fashionable, way!
And this is something she continues today when cooking for her own children – she has two girls, Tatyana, four years old, and Ottilie, two. “A fundamental part of being a mother is knowing that my children are eating well,” says Thomasina. Finding the time to cook with the children is a priority. “Tatti loves crushing things with the pestle and mortar,” laughs Thomasina, who will do anything to get home in time for bath and bed, even if it means whizzing across London from Soho and back in time for an event at one of her restaurants.
Eating together as a family is also high on the list. “The children don’t eat as many chillies as we do, but they eat everything else we eat,” Thomasina explains. The family grow their own vegetables in their small back garden and the children love to pick, eat and cook their fresh produce. Thomasina believes passionately that this contact with nature is crucial to a child’s development, which is the key to her newest venture, the Open Air Classroom.
Most days, Thomasina would walk past the ARK Franklin Primary School in Kensal Rise, near her home, where she noticed there was a great outdoor space that she felt could be put to good use. She approached ARK who were “unbelievably enthusiastic, positive and un-beuracratic”.
In order to make the Open Air Classroom a reality, Thomasina has teamed up with fellow foodie Laura Harper-Hinton (founder of Caravan restaurants) to raise £100,000. Their Fork to Fork Food Festival in June, will bring together some of London’s most talented chefs, restaurateurs and producers, with food stalls, chef demonstrations, a world fête and a secret picnic garden along with live music and activities.
The ARK Franklin Open Air Classroom will work hand-in-hand with the Edible Schoolyard Project, and will feature raised beds for growing vegetables, as well as a pond for marine science, a conservation and wildflower area to attract butterflies and bees, and a solar-powered oven and forest school to teach the children new skills. And not only will the food be cooked and eaten in the school, but they will be allowed to sell vegetables at the Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market, encouraging experience of commerce too.
“The outdoor classroom is about bringing learning to life, bringing subjects alive,” enthuses Thomasina. “To feed yourself is fundamental to survival, and girls and boys need to be taught these skills in school.” The project aims to give children the freedom to explore the natural world, and has the additional benefit that they’re much more likely to eat healthy food if they’ve grown it themselves. “I worry about how pressurised the education system is,” confides Thomasina, adding that “life is not just about results”.