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Newcastle children’s charity and TV chef announce new partnership

The Stepney Banks Stables charity – England’s first inner city riding school for children – has teamed up with a TV chef in an exciting new partnership to promote a healthy lifestyle.

The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop at the Stables will provide free cooking masterclasses for children and parents and also offer work experience for young budding cooks.

The coffee shop will be run by Master Chef quarter finalist Matei Baran who, as well as delivering healthy eating projects, will be dishing up a tasty menu for visitors to the stables.

Matei has brought with him personal trainer Ryan Conwell and Jasmine Dawes, a Thai yoga massage therapist and mindfulness mentor, who have helped him improve his physical and mental health. In the past year the 42-year-old chef has lost more than 11 stones. Ryan and Jasmine will provide free weekly sessions for people of all ages in the Stepney Banks Stables gym.

“We are dedicated to offering an holistic approach to combine the benefits of exercise and healthy eating,” said the stables’ manager Denise Wilson. “We have had plans to develop a community-based project for some time and are delighted to support and work alongside Matei, whose project supports our charitable objectives.”

Last summer Matei held a number of cooking sessions at the stables where his son – and Mini Chef – rides. The success of those workshops inspired the new partnership. “It’s really important that the younger children have a chance to cook and learn about healthy options, so this will be ideal. The ethos of what Matei’s doing is brilliant,” said Denise.

Matei’s approach complements the aims of the highly successful Stepney Banks Stables charity which helps young people become more confident and resilient by riding and caring for horses. Over the last 25 years that experience has helped thousands develop their social skills and – through becoming a volunteer – improve their job prospects. The stables are home to 23 horses and 15 full-time and part-time members of staff work there.  They deliver 400 riding lessons a week for eight to 18-year-olds and adults.

In the Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop Matei will be running a hands-on breakfast club for children as well as cooking workshops where they will discover how to prepare a special dish.

Parents will be invited to learn about preparing healthy breakfasts followed by sessions with Ryan and Jasmine.

Matei is also providing work experience for Mini Chefs, such as 15-year-old Ben Halliburton from Cramlington, who is due to start his Level 2 in Professional Cookery at Gateshead College in September.

“He found it a challenge – as any 15-year-old starting work would – but he really enjoyed it,” said Ben’s mum Nicola. “The opportunity’s been amazing and he found Matei an inspiration.”

As well as a successful career in kitchens at some of the North East’s top hotels and restaurants, Matei has been determined to help people through cooking. He has published a recipe book for children called Big Chef Mini Chef.  His inspiration was his son Armin who suffers from cystic fibrosis.  Last year he launched Kitchen Therapy, a project with Middlesbrough Football Club’s Foundation, to help a group of adults improve their self-esteem by learning and working together. The second project has just started.

He has also been helping students at the Haskel School, an independent Jewish special school in Gateshead, to learn to cook. He has proved so popular that the students volunteered to help decorate The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop.

“I have found so much enjoyment and a sense of achievement through cooking that I want to share it with as many people as possible,” said Matei. “I have made my home in the North East but I see so many things here I would like to help change, for example obesity and bad eating habits.

“I liked my food and sugar drinks – too much – and became dangerously overweight. Not only does that affect your physical health it also damages your self-esteem.   It was a painful lesson but I have changed, through practising what I preach about healthy eating and exercising. If I can do that anybody can.”

He added: “I am so excited about the Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop. The Stepney Banks Stables is a fantastic charity and I hope together we can continue to make a difference.”