Meghan's secret trips to help launch cookbook for first Grenfell Tower victims
This could be a kitchen in just about any community hall in Britain, judging by the range of dishes and the people preparing them with such obvious enthusiasm.
The one clue to its actual location is the immaculate young helper in the stripey apron -the new Duchess of Sussex getting stuck into her first public endeavour on her own.
Behind these smiles, though, there is still a very great pain. For what unites all the women here at the Hubb Community Kitchen is the fact that all their lives were turned upside down by the cataclysmic events at Grenfell Tower in June last year.
The headlines might have focused on political outrage cranked up by those with axes to grind. But on the ground, in the ash-strewn streets, the overarching sense was of people wanting to unite and help. Now, more than a year later, it is food which is continuing that process – with a little help from the Duchess.
In her first solo project as a royal, she ‘got stuck in straight away’ donning an apron at the community kitchen and helping create a charity cookbook. Of her first visit, she said: ‘An apron was quickly wrapped around me, I pushed up my sleeves, and I found myself washing the rice for lunch.’
A group of local women started the Hubb Community Kitchen, using recipes passed down the generations, to cater for families made homeless and it soon grew to help others, too.
Now they have released a 50-recipe cookbook, Together, with the duchess writing in the foreword: ‘I immediately felt connected to this community kitchen; it is a place for women to laugh, grieve, cry and cook together.’
Volunteers at the centre included Munira Mahmud, 34, who started the kitchen project after the fire.
Munira was one of two of Meghan’s fellow cooks who made terrifying escapes from the inferno, in which 72 died. She was able to flee along with several members of her family.
Recalling the duchess’s first visit, she said: ‘She came into the kitchen, very relaxed, very friendly, down to earth. She wore an apron. I can’t believe I made her wash rice!’
Zahira Ghaswala, 39, the co-ordinator of the kitchen, said: ‘She just got stuck in straight away. It was just all natural – the joy, the happiness. The environment just makes everyone feel you want to join in. She was loving – the recipes, the flavours that were put together. She has got stuck with helping, preparing, serving, making chapatis.’
Meghan said of the women: ‘Their roles as matriarchs united them across their cultures; the kitchen provided an opportunity to cook what they knew and to taste the memory of home, albeit homes some had recently lost.’
Describing the kitchen, where ‘scents of cardamom, curry and ginger dance through the air’, she wrote: ‘You will find yourself in a melting pot of cultures and personalities, who have roots in Uganda, Iraq, Morocco, India, Russia and at least ten other countries.
A video to launch the cookbook has a slick documentary feel that might almost have been put together by someone with a long track record of making TV shows...
The women at the Hubb needed funds to extend their operation from two days a week to seven, and the Duchess had the idea of a cookbook. She helped workers get administrative assistance and, crucially, a publisher, leaving the women to get on with doing what they do best: cooking.
However, the duchess’s involvement has not stopped there. On Thursday, she will help prepare the lunch the Hubb team will serve at Kensington Palace to launch their book.
Few can recall the last time a prince or princess was down in a palace kitchen, sleeves rolled up. In due course, many more traditional patronages will follow.
But many years hence, historians will record that the first cause espoused by the House of Windsor’s first American princess was a community kitchen underneath the A40.