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How many recipes did you know at 16?

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

  • Fun Kitchen session at St Peter's School, Exeter. Photo: GRW Photography

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WHEN the Government announced that cooking lessons will become compulsory for pupils aged seven to 14 from September, Joe Mann was licking his lips.

Perhaps it is just the effect of the aroma of apple crisps and spiced apple muffins which fills his classroom at St Peter's after the first Fun Kitchen session of the spring half-term.

But it's more likely that it was in response to the idea that there will now be wider support and investment in teaching the skills which he advocates.

He will play his part in ensuring pupils can make up to 20 dishes before taking their GCSE exams.

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"I can't think of anything better than giving children the enthusiasm and confidence to cook healthy and nutritious meals for themselves, family, and friends," he said. "It's what motivates me to do what I do – it's brilliant news."

Alongside teaching at St Peter's Joe, with wife Kitty, runs Fun Kitchen which offers all-day cookery classes during the school holidays as well as events for adults. At the moment, he is observing his class as they check if their spiced apple muffins have risen.

"Every child should have the opportunity to learn to cook," he said. "And from there they learn how easy it is to do it and how easy it is to avoid having to rely on ready meals. Today we are using eight types of fruit and vegetables and they will learn the skills to cook them and end up with healthy meals."

Joe, and St Peter's, recently won a prize for their innovations in teaching cookery, not bad for a man who once made his name promoting torture.

"My career began with designing tourist attractions and rollercoasters," he said, "I was part of the team which looked after the London Dungeons.

"When my wife and I decided to leave London, I retrained as a teacher. It is the best decision I ever made."

Through the school and Fun Kitchen, he ran a series of events promoting cooking. This included working with Michael Caines to "take over" one of his restaurants for the night with students, producing a seven-course meal for paying guests, and promoting St Peter's links with Malawi in a charity night with cuisine based on ingredients from the African nation.

"It's not all about children," he said, "We run learn-to-cook sessions with adults. You can be more tongue-in-cheek, but the principles are just the same.

"I want to continue to do all I can to spread the word that cooking is fun and easy. Britain has the highest obesity rate in Europe, with one in three children overweight or obese by the age of nine, but the confidence to have fun making your own fresh food is a way to tackle everyone's eating habits."

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