Cooking to Create ChangeWritten by Jane Littlefair
With her Bangkok-based initiative Cook First, Amelia Stewart aims to inspire change in eating habits and lives through her programme of recipes and classes.
A former Logistics Officer at the UN World Food Programme in Rome, Amelia Stewart took an unexpected turn in her career by starting her own cooking business with an emphasis on health and wellness in 2016. Determined to continue changing lives through food, she set about teaching people how to cook better at home. Launched in London but now based in Bangkok, Cook First hopes to help educate people and businesses about healthier eating habits with its hands-on classes and website.
Everyone likes food. But there are some people like Amelia Stewart who really love food, whose days are spent testing culinary methods and creating dishes. With deep-rooted inspiration from her family’s hearty and healthy recipes, Amelia recalls a childhood watching her mother bake from scratch. “And that’s where my passion for food stems from.”
On the completion of her Bachelor’s Degree, Amelia secured a job in the logistics department of the UN World Food Programme. She travelled to African countries to provide food for emergency situations, discovering first hand how much impact food could have on individuals, families and communities. Despite the numerous perks of working for a large organisation, the enthusiastic cook was eager to learn how she personally could inspire change through food, and so she changed tack. In 2015 Amelia took on a Master’s Degree in Health Law at the University College of London, which eventually sparked the idea for Cook First. “When things are done on a personal basis, I feel like I can make more of a difference,” she explains. “Although it might sound a bit selfish, I get a lot of personal fulfillment when people are empowered and satisfied by their cooking.”
Just 5 months after launching Cook First in London, a friend of Amelia’s got her on board as a consultant for their food tour company, A Taste of Thailand. Not long after, she decided to move her initiative to Bangkok to focus on both ventures at once. “I was very lucky to already have a network of friends and contacts there, so I was familiar with the city and its food scene. My aim here is to get people to think about what they are eating. For example, sugar is a big issue in Thailand. Many people are unaware that there are alternatives out there.” And soon she discovered there was even more potential in Thailand to really change perceptions. “In Bangkok I quickly learned how different the food culture was. Hardly anyone had an oven, and hardly anyone cooked at home. So I adapted my Cook First workshops to suit the market, creating recipes for raw desserts, healthy meals that could be easily be made with a wok and a hot plate. Not only are the methods we teach easy to use at home, the meals are also highly nutritious and inexpensive. We hope to inspire new beginnings.”
It is not only families and individuals that have approached Cook First for advice. The consultancy side of her business is growing as she discovers businesses in Bangkok are also passionate about improving their healthy quotient. “Storyline Cafe in Prom Pong was one of my first clients; they used to buy all their desserts in from external bakers as they didn’t have an oven on site. So I taught their team how to make a variety of no-bake cheesecakes, delicious desserts that required minimal equipment, so they could really feel like everything they were selling was their ‘own’ and could save money in the long run. I also taught them how to make a whole selection of raw desserts so that they could cater to different types of diets (gluten-free, Vegan, nut-free,) thereby expanding their clientele.” She has also worked with Vitatrade, Thailand’s first supplier of pulp acai, to help develop their smoothie menu. “We are driving our business forward and raising awareness to become more supportive of sustainable farming and conscious-led food consumption,” she explains.
With the aim of spreading the company’s message, Cook First recently launched an online platform with recipes for wholesome dishes as well as write ups of restaurants and nutritional information. Next up, she is also planning a cookbook. “It will be about achieving the optimal level of happiness and satisfaction in people’s daily lifestyles by embracing food, ingredients, and produce.” Whether it is in promoting small, personal changes or large-scale departures, Cook First is determined to make a difference one habit and meal at a time.