Created by food writer Ryan Riley in 2018 after losing his mother Krista to small cell lung cancer five years ago, the Life Kitchen initiative, which offers free cookery classes focused on taste and flavour to people living with cancer, is proud to be opening a cookery school in Mowbray Park, Sunderland next week, the new and permanent home of the initiative.

Set to be opened by celebrity chef Nigella Lawson on Tuesday 4th June, this non-profit organisation is focused on helping people with cancer enjoy food again. Offering free cookery classes to those with the disease to help encourage a love of cooking and eating with creative and accessible recipes, Ryan Riley was inspired to open the school after watching his beloved mother lose her love of food while undergoing cancer treatment.

Speaking to HuffPost UK, Riley said “She was miserable, and was also so tired, so cooking took a back seat since there was no point in spending time making meals that she couldn’t even enjoy. I felt like she lost her zest for life long before she lost her battle with cancer. This was part of what inspired me to start Life Kitchen. I wanted to give people living with cancer enjoyment again”.

One side effect of undergoing chemotherapy can include the taste receptor cells in the mouth changing, with some people living with cancer reporting a metallic taste in their mouths when trying to enjoy their favourite meals. Other side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy include an uncomfortable sensitivity to certain temperatures and textures.

Ryan Riley (Image: Handout)

Joining forces with senses specialist Professor Barry Smith from the University of London, Riley has created a menu that is specifically designed for people with the disease, ensuring that no cancer patient’s journey to recovery needs to be any more difficult than it already is.

The menu includes umami-rich foods and recipes like lentils with mushrooms and gremolata and strong and balanced dishes like roasted rose harissa salmon with fennel yoghurt salad and their signature pineapple tacos dish.

To help cancer patients deal with changing tastes during chemotherapy treatment, Cancer Research recommends people living with cancer choose strong flavours such as garlic, lemon juice and herbs in their dishes, marinate ingredients overnight, and to use plastic utensils instead of metallic ones.

So far, members of the public have donated over £22,000 to make this school a possibility, with architects, building firms, and a kitchen appliance company donating their services for free to help bring Ryan Riley’s inspiring vision to life. Doubling up as an outreach space for local people, the Sunderland-based cookery school will host frequent cooking classes for the community and those further afield, with all cookery classes being free for people living with cancer.

To date, Life Kitchen has travelled the country and hosted many pop-up cookery classes that have helped to teach new recipes to people living with cancer, but thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, from June 4th onwards, the initiative will have its very own home.

Life Kitchen’s heart-warming mission statement has already caught the attention of some of the UK’s national treasures, including chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (who has designed an official pattern for the school printed on Life Kitchen’s new tea towels, aprons, and other kitchen items), and television personalities Stephen Fry and Sue Perkins, who have all done their bit to try to raise awareness and support for this good cause.

Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins, who is now a patron of the charity, has even previously co-hosted a number of Life Kitchen classes, after being inspired to join forces with the initiative after losing her father to cancer.

Now, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, inspired by her own family’s battles with cancer, is showing her support by officially opening the new site on Tuesday 4th June.

Ryan Riley had this to say to Chronicle Live about Nigella’s involvement in the launch of the cookery school in Mowbray Park, Sunderland next week:

“She immediately came on board and has supported me very vocally. She’s been a very good backer and confidant for me. Nigella’s got a huge personal investment in it having lost her husband, mother and sister to cancer. I think that’s why she really cares about it. It’s really humbling and lovely that somebody of her character has invested so much in my small project.”

From June 4th, you can apply to attend the cookery school here.

For more information, visit Life Kitchen on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

Donate to Life Kitchen’s GoFundMe page here.

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