Free To Feed is a social enterprise founded by Loretta and Daniel Bolotin – their company employs refugees and asylum seekers, who are then given the opportunity to share their culture and improve their English language skills by providing educational workshops for those of us interested in experiencing foreign cuisines.

I recently attended one of their workshops called ‘Taste of Sri Lanka’, taught by Charu. Besides being a lovely and bubbly person, she is a chef and restaurateur coming from Colombo, Sri Lanka, who had to flee her home to save her and her family’s life. Her journey wasn’t easy, but she never lost faith, and now she teaches eager students how to make delicious recipes.

The magic takes place at 763A High Street in Thornbury, where Free To Feed is located; be careful not to make the same mistake I did and walk past their venue, as there is little signage.

All attendees, about a dozen in total, were given a warm welcome from the organisers and volunteers, who offer us a cup of coriander and ginger tea, as well as a spicy pineapple snack. There is also the option of purchasing alcohol or refreshments.

Volunteers Colin and Hamish serving tea / Spices and produce displayed on the main prepping table

After a round of introductions, we are each provided with a chopping board and a knife, while Charu directs us to cut the produce on the table. She walks around the table and demonstrates her chopping techniques, and everyone gets involved by passing bowls and vegetables around, or helping each other out. From the very start, Charu seems like a friendly and funny teacher, and if something goes wrong she takes it all in her stride.

Charu assigning tasks and helping out participants at the prepping table.

After everything is prepped, we move on to the kitchen where people are assigned different cooking tasks under Charu’s supervision, aided by her son, the cheerful and funny Harish. During the cooking phase, Charu shares with us her kitchen tips and tricks for better dishes.

Prepped food ready to be cooked.

Right before dinner is served, she gathers us around a bubbling pot, and tells everyone her life story. Hearing about Charu’s hardships and journey of hope is far better heard from the woman herself than from me, so I definitely recommend booking a class for learning and listening.

Charu helping out the participants with cooking tips and tricks.

Next, dinner is served, and Charu encourages us to let go of our cutlery, and use only our right hand to eat.

The menu consists of fish curry, beetroot curry, traditional cabbage fry, accompanied by aromatic rice and a fresh salad. For dessert, Charu treats us to sago pudding. I admit I was concerned about the food at first, due to not being a fan of neither fish nor beetroot, but all my worries went away after tasting the dishes.

Everything was full of flavour, the aromas blended nicely together for every part of the meal, and the dessert was heavenly. The fact that all the food was cooked with help from each and every one of the attendees made it so much more delicious, and the pictures below demonstrate that.

Clockwise from the top: Fish curry,cabbage fry, beetroot curry, fresh salad, and aromatic rice.

Overall, the experience was one-of-a-kind. Charu’s energy and her passion for food are contagious, which made the class seem like a bunch of friends cooking together. I left the workshop having learned how to prepare several new yummy dishes (everyone gets sent the recipes so you don’t have to worry about memorizing every step), and with a belly full of amazing food.

Not only that but I had that lovely warm sensation that comes with doing Good; because these cooking classes not only benefit the attendees, but also the asylum and refugee seekers whose lives are improved by Free To Feed’s initiative. On this note, I would like to thank the organisers, the volunteers, the other participants, and especially Charu herself for such a beautiful experience.

Sago pudding – traditional Sri Lankan dessert.

To book a cooking class for yourself, your employees, or as a gift for someone else, visit Free To Feed‘s page.

All pictures have been taken with permission from the chef and the other volunteers or participants.

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