Cheap as Chips Turns Tenants Into Top Chefs

30 September 2011

A culinary revolution has been under way for some of the residents of Wellington City Council's rental complexes. In the past year they have been encouraged to turn their hand to easy, cheap, healthy - but mostly inspired - cooking.

'Cheap as Chips' cooking classes have been running for the past year at local community centres involving tenants from the Council's Arlington, Pukehinau, Berkeley Dallard, Central Park, Kotuku and Duncan Terrace housing complexes.

The programme, run by the SuperGrans voluntary organisation, in partnership with the Council, teaches interested tenants how to cut back their food bills but at the same time turn out some great meals.

And now Cheap as Chips is the subject and title of a TVNZ documentary, screening this weekend. The cooking workshops were filmed in June and July and will screen on TV1 at 11.30am this Sunday 2 October as part of the New Zealand Stories series.

The programme is produced by Wellington-based Pacific Screen.

The City Council's Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Stephanie Cook, says the documentary pays tribute both to the members of SuperGrans who have organised Cheap as Chips - and the residents who have enthusiastically embraced the concept of good cooking and eating.

"It's been brilliant watching residents really get into new types of food and new styles of cooking - and it's been great sitting down and eating with them.

"I think we all know that many different pressures are these days putting a lot of people off cooking at home - everything from time constraints and cost, to the fact that a lot of us have never really learned to cook and bake in the way that our forebears took for granted.

"But the Cheap as Chips courses have shown a lot of people that cooking doesn't have to be difficult - and it most certainly doesn't have to be all pretentious, expensive and ridiculous in the way that it's portrayed in many of the shows TV we suffer." 

Cr Cook says she's seen residents knocking out all sorts of tasty meals - ranging from Asian noodle-based meals to BBQ smoked mussels.

Participants have also been encouraged to go and buy from the burgeoning number of weekend vegetable markets springing up around the city. "People are being shown that there are ways of eating - and which can involve seasonal vegetables - that don't involve expensive supermarkets or takeaways."

Rosie Gallen, the Community Action and Engagement Manager with the Council's City Housing Unit, says the five-week Cheap as Chips courses have been held at local community centres - where there's enough kitchen space for everyone to "have a go".

Participants have also gone on field trips aimed at making the most of the rich environment Wellington has to offer. And the term 'rich' refers more to the great diversity of foods available if you know where to look, rather than how much it costs. A focus of the course is foods you can grow yourself or source from the Town Belt, other reserves, the sea and coastline.

Rosie says Supergrans organiser Cheryl McKane is passionate about helping tenants to help themselves, and ensures they have fun doing it. The curriculum of the course is flexible enough to allow the students to contribute their own skills and learn from each other. When Cheryl discovered student Falaknaz Rana was a passionate cook of Indian cuisine, she encouraged her to teach the rest of the team her favourite dishes.

At the end of the five-week course tenants have a banquet meal to celebrate and invite family and friends along to celebrate. With an accent on healthy eating and lots of fresh ingredients including home-smoked fish and winter salads, it is a feast in every sense.  

Cheap as Chips is part of the Community Action programme that in turn is running alongside the massive $400 million project, jointly funded by the Government and the City Council, to upgrade the Council's rental housing stock.

Rosie says the Council was determined from the beginning that the housing upgrade programme "would not just be about bricks and mortar.

"We're passionate about improving the sense of community and engagement on many of our sites - especially the bigger ones. It's been fantastic watching programmes like Cheap as Chips bring people together so they can learn, have fun, eat good food - and get to know each other better."

The Cheap as Chips classes are expected to continue later this year - with a series on healthy and fun cooking for the festive and summer season.