Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

Chef shares kitchen secrets with disabled

Asher Assaraf wanted to help Kiwis with Down Syndrome - the same condition his sister has. Photo / Supplied
Asher Assaraf wanted to help Kiwis with Down Syndrome - the same condition his sister has. Photo / Supplied

Chef Asher Assaraf is giving back to a community which means the world to him - providing cooking classes to Kiwis with Down Syndrome.

The 38-year-old has taken time out from his busy day jobs at Auckland restaurants Nomad and Bodrum Kitchen to start the scheme. His younger sister Natalie, who has Mosaic Down Syndrome and lives in Israel, was his inspiration.

The first of the classes started up last week and regular weekly sessions for people with disabilities such as autism and Tourette Syndrome are now in the pipeline.

"My sister has had a steady job at a bread factory for the past seven years and to me she is a legend," Mr Assaraf said. "She has inspired me to try and be a better person every day.

"I just wanted to help Kiwis with the same condition. Organising cooking lessons seemed like an obvious way for me to do that."

Mr Assaraf has teamed up with youth disability organisation Recreate NZ and the Auckland Down Syndrome Association to provide the classes.

The first session was held at Nomad in Pt Chevalier and regular cooking events are planned for a new kitchen fitted at the Recreate NZ headquarters in Epsom.

At the debut class, six eager teenagers were shown how to make pizza, chicken nuggets and beef burgers.

"They loved it," Mr Assaraf said. "They scoffed the first lot of food themselves so we had to make another batch they could take home to their families in doggy bags."

The ingredients were supplied by Foodchain and Southern Hospitality provided aprons, hats and gloves.

The chef is no stranger to giving back to the community. He was working at the Accor Hotel in Christchurch when the devastating earthquake struck in February 2011 and in the aftermath, he helped feed victims while volunteering for the Red Cross.

Amy Mauer, programme coordinator for Recreate NZ, said it was rare to have someone volunteer opportunities like this for its clients.

"Asher is very passionate and people were buzzing at being let loose in a real kitchen," she said. "They are now all discussing how they are going to become chefs. The cooking classes will be educational and fun and I'm sure they will be popular with kids with various disabilities."

- NZ Herald

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