Hearty eating is the recipe for life

Hearty eating is the recipe for life
The Herald

The breakthrough for Bosco Santimano came when a cardiac specialist invited him to set up a demonstration kitchen at a hospital and patients who had suffered heart attacks were asked to sign up for healthy cooking classes. Four or five people signed up ahead of time, but on the day 25 people turned up.

‘Everyone said it was exactly what they needed – something to help stop them getting ill again.

We are the first outside company to be involved with the NHS to offer a preventative measure,’ he says.

His fledgling social business is now benefiting from moves in the NHS to become more proactive about changing the conditions that lead to illness.

Goan-born Santimano was asked to run his You Can Cook course at Edinburgh’s Astley Ainslie amid concern too few patients change their diet after a heart attack. The specialist felt they needed to be shown how to cook healthy food.

Now the work of You Can Cook – also the name of his company – is ongoing and in the future Santimano hopes to be able to work with stroke victims and diabetics.

‘I ran my own home cooking business but realised I was excluding a chunk of the population,’ he explains. ‘My business was a niche market. I thought about how I could do something that could include everyone.’

Director of the Peebles-based community interest company, Santimano became concerned after he studied data from the Scottish Executive regarding poor diet and growing obesity levels in Scotland. He decided to start a company that would educate people about cooking and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

He was aware many people are confused about healthy eating and think a healthy diet is expensive. ‘People were being bombarded by healthy eating advice in the media, but no-one was going far enough to explain it’, says Santimano.

You Can Cook was launched in October 2007 as a community interest company (CIC).

Introduced by the government in 2005 under the Community Interest Act 2004, a CIC is a type of company designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good.

CICs are intended to be easy to set up, with all the flexibility and certainty of the company form, but with some special features to ensure they are working for the benefit of the community.

You Can Cook’s mission statement is to raise people’s awareness of the impact their actions have on society, the environment and most importantly themselves.’ Santimano says the last thing he wants to do is preach to people. ‘We are not pushing our message down people’s throats, but giving them information that they can apply where they see fit. We want to show people that if they make a small change it can have a big impact on their lives.’

But he insists the unusual business is viable. It may not be hugely profitable yet, but this is only year-one, and the company is not heavily reliant on grants. ‘We ask for grants only so we can do free workshops for disadvantaged people,’ he explains. ‘It is a sustainable business.’

As well as ongoing work for the NHS, You Can Cook provides corporate Energising Lunches for employees who want to know what to eat to sustain productivity and energy levels. Santimano hopes to add Energising Breakfasts to the menu soon.

Despite the director’s Indian heritage, other You Can Cook staff are from a variety of backgrounds and the recipes they teach are international cuisine.

The company aims to engage all members of the community via cooking workshops, talks and screenings of documentaries related to food, health and environmental issues. Information is also provided about nutrition and the benefits of buying local and organic food. The ultimate objective is to provide a service that will help everyone in the community make informed choices regarding diet and health.

You Can Cook run services for public, private and government organisations. A company can hire You Can Cook who will come and do a cookery demonstration. There is a sliding scale of charges and bigger organisations will pay more. This benefits smaller organisations who perhaps can’t afford to pay as much and means that You Can Cook will never say no to anyone who wants to use their services.

Apart from the breakthrough into work with the health service, Santimano had another triumph last year. You Can Cook won the audience prize at 2008’s Dragons’ Den event run by SenScot at New Lanark. Winning two days’ business advice from consultancy Rocket Science was all the sweeter as it was voted for by more than 100 entrepreneurs at the social enterprise conference. But Santimano’s ambitions don’t stop there. Once You Can Cook is well established, Santimano plans to introduce You Can Grow. After spending a month working on a farm in Portugal last summer, he was inspired by its permaculture principals. ‘It goes further than organic farming’, he explains. ‘Permaculture farming doesn’t harm any species in order to grow food. It works in conjunction with the environment.Hopefully by the end of the year we will be running permaculture workshops.’

Over the years the profit the company makes will be reinvested in the work it does with the community. ‘People are your greatest assets. Every person has something to offer, no matter how minute it is from an economic point of view. That is what we want to bring to our project’ says Santimano.

The company still has to win over those who are convinced that a healthy diet is a boring diet.

However, he firmly believes that You Can Cook’s approach is more successful at converting people to healthy eating than the numerous government campaigns. ‘What can you learn from looking at a poster,’ asks Santimano. ‘We are getting people to learn hands on. We get all the ingredients together and people get to touch and taste the food. That’s how you’re really going to make a change.’