Salt of the Earth: Meet Harrogate master chef Paul Welch who has cooked more than 7,500 meals for the vulnerable during lockdown.
MasterchefPaul cooks up more than7,500hot meals for elderly
Our Salt’s of the Earth have all been remarkable people. Some have given phenomenal amounts of time to help others.
Some have triumphed over adversity and there are a few, that when you actually step back and consider the magnitude of what they are doing, that blow your mind with their selflessness and generosity of spirit.
Paul Welch is one such man. Since the start of the pandemic Paul has cooked 7,500 meals for those in need, from his own kitchen.
That’s roughly 250 meals, every single week, for 30 weeks.
Paul, 59, retired 18 months ago from his own successful interior design firm. He said: “I decided to do volunteer work. I thought it was the right thing to do.
“I started at Harrogate Food Bank and then when coronavirus came, I was inspired to help by my own children who are both doctors.”
Paul decided to quite literally bring his work home with him and created Pablo’s Kitchen. He said: “I wanted to work on my own terms, in my own environment.
“Fortunately I have a kitchen that’s set up to do batch cooking of a reasonable size.”
Paul, who lost the use of his legs in a paragliding accident 20 years ago, has a large kitchen with countertops set at varying heights, he said: “It works for myself if I’m cooking on my own, and if I need to bring someone else in to help, we can work socially distanced.”
Paul produces 250 meals a week which he cooks in large batches, he said: “I had a big stock pot and when I went to Costco where they had the exact same one still in stock, so I bought more and now I have four.
“I went from being able to cook 6 kilo to 15 kilo batches and from cooking 17 meals to 40 meals at a time.”
Once finished every thing is weighed into foil containers and then placed in one of Paul’s seven freezers in the garage.
The meals are then allocated with help from charity Supporting Older People, who collect dietary requirements from those in need and then Paul creates a spreadsheet of who gets what.
Paul said: “We give four meals per person per fortnight and have a maximum of 48 meals leaving the freezer per day.
“I can cope with cooking 250 meals per week. There are seven volunteers who come into my garage, pick the food from the freezer, allocate it to the relevant carrier bag and then hand the carrier bags to the recipient.”
“We’re not only providing food, sometimes the delivery driver can be the only person who's been to their door that day.
“All of the drivers are happy to chat for 5 or 10 minutes. It’s part of the very important reason that I'm doing this.”
“I do all the shopping for this and select the ingredients myself. At the beginning I was financing it myself, then I decided to do a crowdfunding exercise and raised £6,000.
“I have applied for grants, one with DEFRA and then private company Techbuyer also gave a very generous £10,000 donation towards the meal program.
“Morrisons have also supported the project exceptionally well, and have provided fresh stuff free of charge and given a discount on everything I buy.
“I make everything from scratch, occasionally I’m given sauces, but I would say 90% of everything done from scratch.”
“There are 38 meat meals, 24 chicken meals, 16 fish meals, 25 soups, 11 billy no mates and 17 vegetarian meals.”
The meals are all labelled with their own carefully chosen names, including Be'you'ti'ful beef and sage stew, a very Corned Beef Smash and Bish Bash Bosh Bolognaise.
Paul said: “It is worth noting that I personally select and shop for the ingredients needed to create all of my meals
“We’ve taken 2.5 tonnes of food out of the freezer, and all of that must have come into the kitchen in a basket on my knee.”
“I think we've touched north of 300 people on this project. The older people we are supporting are very wary about coming out of the house. The news scares 90 to 95% of them.
“I'm certainly not a trained chef, but I enjoy doing this, it has a direct impact on people's lives. I couldn't do this without Supporting Older People and they couldn’t do it without me.
“It’s about bringing a smile to people's faces. It's not about feeding people, it's about lifting people's spirits.
Supporting Older People was founded in 1982 aiming to alleviate loneliness and isolation often experienced by older people living on their own.
Before lockdown they ran a successful befriending service and various activities including dining out club, tea and talk, music and movement, singing and outings.
Julia Lightfoot, befriending and activities manager for Supporting Older People, has been helping Paul get his meals to those most in need.
She said: “I go out and do some of the deliveries, One family we deliver to the grandparents, parents and their daughter, the whole family has a need. They sent in a fantastic text saying what a positive impact the meals were having on their lives, and that they were making a difference to so many people.”
“The best thing is the meals are delicious and nutritious. A lot of older people are surviving on ready meals which contain a lot of salt. Paul’s meals are absolutely lovely.”