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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.”

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TV chef’s community cafe ready after a little help from his friends

TV Master Chef Matei Baran’s preparations for his new community café have been given a major boost by children he has taught to cook.

Nine months ago Chef Matei was invited to work with a group of students at the Haskel School, an independent Jewish special school in Gateshead in North East England.

His weekly sessions have had a major impact on the children, aged between 12 and 15, who – when they heard about his café – were only too happy to grab a paintbrush.

The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop opens at the Stepney Banks Stables in Newcastle on 1 February and will support the work of the riding school which has created opportunities for thousands of young people over the last 25 years.

At the café Matei, who in 2016 reached the quarter final of Master Chef: the Professionals, will run regular free cooking sessions for children and parents as part of his campaign to make the North East a healthier place – and the children and teachers from Haskel School will support him every step of the way.

Mr Schauder, the head of the school’s senior division, said Matei’s classes had been of huge benefit – even encouraging some of the children to like vegetables.  “Besides the cooking element, they are learning about knife skills and kitchen safety. They are also picking up social skills as well.  It’s therapy for them – just being in a group together – and we would never get them to sit together in a regular therapy session. They love it.” he said.

Matei will continue to hold classes at the school after he opens his café, which is nearly ready to open thanks to the children’s help. “We’ll always looking for opportunities for the kids to help out in the community and Matei needed help in getting his café ready, so I thought it would be a good start if we put them both together. The kids absolutely loved it, so it was a win-win situation,” said Mr Schauder.

Chef Matei said working with the children was a privilege and their progress showed how cooking was so beneficial. “They’re a great bunch of kids and it’s been a lot of fun. I was so grateful for their help in the café. The Big Chef Mini Chef Coffee Shop is such an exciting project and this has been a great way to start it off,” he said.

As well as helping children through cooking, Matei has developed a programme called Kitchen Therapy to support adults struggling with their mental well-being. The 12-week course, run in partnership with Middlesbrough Football Club’s Foundation, culminates with the novice chefs preparing a meal for paying guests.

The first Kitchen Therapy project resulted in three of the participants securing jobs.  The second course has just been launched in East Cleveland.

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Matei Baran’s amazing weight loss

A TELEVISION chef who in 2019 lost a staggering 11 stones in weight hopes his story will inspire others in the New Year.

Matei Baran topped 28 stones when he reached the quarter finals of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2016.

He revelled in the nickname of Big Chef, even though his morbid obesity was causing major health problems and threatened to deprive him of seeing his young son grow up.

He would become breathless just tying his shoelaces and away from the kitchen his self-esteem plummeted, reviving memories of a suicide attempt when he was 21.

The Northern Echo: Matei Baran in January being interviewed for his new book. Pictures: STEPHEN BEECROFT
Matei Baran in January being interviewed for his new book. Pictures: STEPHEN BEECROFT
But he is looking forward to starting 2020 healthy, happy and fit.

Mr Baran, 41, who lives in Wallsend, said his dramatic change was brought about by two events.

First, with Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation, he launched Kitchen Therapy: a programme to help people, who had problems with their mental health and self-confidence, to learn to cook.

Then, a Polish mechanical engineer and mother-of-three living in Dublin responded to one of Matei’s social media posts.

Marysia Szmagara is also a fitness enthusiast and advocates the common-sense approach to losing weight: a healthy balanced diet and active lifestyle.

Mr Baran said: “Her support was just what I needed. She lifted the blinkers off my eyes and made me realise what was possible.

“The people who took part in Kitchen Therapy were so honest and brave. They were prepared to try something totally out of their comfort zones to help bring about a change in their lives.

“After so many years of putting on weight I was really scared at the thought of how I would go about losing it, but I just had to think about the men and women I helped through Kitchen Therapy, and my son Armin, for the motivation I needed.”

Mr Baran ate healthily, stopped having sugary drinks and joined a gym.

He said: “My message to anybody who is struggling with their weight and self-esteem is that if I can do it, so can you.

“It’s cost me a gym membership and some new clothes, but it’s bought me far more than that.

Mr Baran, who has run two 10k races, is now writing a book about his dramatic weight loss.

As well as his professional plans for 2020, Mr Baran is determined to continue to lead a healthy lifestyle.

He said: “I think you need to set yourself targets.

“I want to run a half marathon and, if possible, eventually a marathon.

“I now want to be known as the Healthy Chef.

“The Big Chef still exists, but only as a name I use for my business and as a reminder of how I used to be.”

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Pupils to feature in new cook book by MasterChef contestant

Pupils have been given a special Christmas present ‘“ starring roles in a cook book written by TV MasterChef quarter finalist Matei Baran.

The children, from Hope Wood Academy in Easington Colliery, helped him prepare a festive afternoon tea to feature in his book – Big Chef Little Chef – which is published in January.

“What a fabulous and emotional day,” said Matei. “One of the most amazing cooking experiences from my life.”

Ten years ago Matei moved to the North East from his native Romania and competed in MasterChef in 2016. He says Big Chef Little Chef is all about “cooking for kids with kids” and it also celebrates the bond he – Big Chef – has with his son, Armin.

Armin, Little Chef, is six-years-old and was born with cystic fibrosis. “Just like him, these kids never let their problems stop them smiling,” said Matei. “I’m so proud of putting this book together and having the opportunity to meet and work alongside such wonderful children. I know it’s going to make me a better person and a better dad.”

More than 200 children – aged from two to 19 – attend the Academy, which caters for young people with a diverse range of special educational needs. Deputy head teacher Vickie Gorton said learning to cook is extremely important for the pupils to both build their independence and develop their life skills.

“We’re always encouraging the pupils to try new things and that includes different types of food,” said Mrs Gorton, “It was fantastic having Matei here and the children really enjoyed helping him. We are so proud that they and Hope Wood have been chosen to take part in Big Chef Little Chef.”

One of the pupils – 11-year-old Tristan – said he was going to use his new cooking skills by making Christmas biscuits at home straight after school. “That makes it all worthwhile,” said Matei. “I’d been thinking about this book for a while and when I saw a photograph of Armin and me walking side by side, the idea of calling it Big Chef, Little Chef came to me.”

The photograph was the inspiration for the image which will feature on the book’s front cover and on the little chefs’ aprons.

“Every dad is proud of his children and Armin is so brave and happy that I wanted us to do something really special together. Eating healthy food is so important – and not just for children with cystic fibrosis. Learning about ingredients and cooking when you are very young means you have a lifetime of understanding and enjoyment of good food ahead of you.”

As well as eating well, Armin has to take dozens of tablets each day. He has regular physiotherapy and takes part in a number of physical activities to help him keep well. Proceeds from the book will go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Its regional community fund-raiser Gemma Williamson said: “As well as raising money the book will also help to get people to understand. I think it’s fantastic and really inspiring. The parents of children with cystic fibrosis will really love the idea, especially all the different recipes.”

The Hope Wood pupils will help launch Big Chef Little Chef on January 26 at Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books – in Newcastle. There they will meet the 15 other junior chefs who have taken part in the project.

Anybody wishing to join them at the launch of Big Chef Little Chef should e-mail info@sevenstories.org.uk
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TV Chef reveals suicide bid as he launches Kitchen Therapy

Tyneside’s TV chef Matei Baran – who is providing Kitchen Therapy for people with mental health problems – has spoken for the first time about the time he tried to kill himself.

Romanian-born Matei moved to the North East 10 years ago and has worked in the kitchens of a number of high-profile restaurants and hotels. In 2016 he reached the quarter final of MasterChef: The Professionals and last he month started a pioneering cooking course called Kitchen Therapy to help people overcome their problems.

Forty-one-year-old Matei, who lives in Wallsend, said working in a kitchen had saved him on numerous occasions – particularly after he took an overdose when he was 20.

“In the kitchen I found myself in a place which gave me back my confidence, took away my bad thoughts and helped me move forward,” he said. 

“Being involved in this project is amazing as I want to help and support people who share these emotional struggles. I want to show them that a kitchen can actually be a friendly place where you can find peace and motivation.”

Matei is providing Kitchen Therapy in partnership with the Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation. Around a dozen trainees, some with no kitchen experience, are taking part in the eight-week course which will culminate in them cooking a five-course tasting menu for paying guests at two of Teesside’s top restaurants.

Earlier this year Matei published a recipe book – Big Chef Mini Chef – which was inspired by his young son who suffers from the life-limiting disease Cystic Fibrosis.  Proceeds from the book go the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation’s Events and Fundraising Coordinator Alan Geddes said: “I think with the traumas Matei has gone through in his personal life he’s decided that he wants to give something back – and that’s fantastic.

“It’s about giving them the opportunity to learn new skills. But I suppose, more importantly, it’s about them getting inspired and building their self-esteem to go out into the world a much more confident person.”

The trainees are being supported by Step Forward Tees Valley – which helps local people overcome barriers to work and training – and the Foundation’s own employability scheme.

Martin Jones is a Senior Employment Engagement Officer for Changing Lives which is part of the Step Forward Tees Valley programme.

“Some have worked in the kitchen, some don’t even cook at home and others totally avoid the kitchen, but that’s due to their mental health issues, their anxiety and depression,” he said.

“This is solving that.  For them it’s a safe place for them to feel relaxed in a supportive environment. Because Matei’s so relaxed and passionate about what he does, he encourages that in other people.”

One of the students is Megan Cook, who is 22 and from Billingham. She worked in catering from the age of 16 and became a team leader at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. “It really raised my confidence,” she said.

“But I left there for an apprenticeship and that completely obliterated it. This is about getting my confidence back in the kitchen and show that I can do it.

“We’re all different people with different circumstances but have come together for the same thing.” 

Thirty-eight-year-old Emma Stephenson from Middlesbrough said: “I eventually want to work in the hotel industry. This would be help me decide whether it is right for me. I think it’s brilliant.  Hopefully I can get a job at the end of it.”

The first milestone for the trainees is on Sunday 28th July at the Riverside Stadium when they will make canapes for MFC Foundation’s partners before being introduced to the crowd during half-time at the Middlesbrough F.C versus St Etienne friendly.

Then, on 19th September, they will prepare a five-course tasting menu for guests at Al Forno’s in Middlesbrough. On 17th October they take over the kitchen at Chadwicks Inn in Maltby and on 26th November they will present a special Christmas Feast at Middlesbrough College’s Waterside Brasserie Restaurant.

For more details visit www.mfcfoundation.co.uk/event/kitchen-therapy-project-alforno-middlesbrough/