The Duchess of Sussex has chosen a charity cookbook helping families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire as her first solo project since joining the royal family.
The Duchess, 37, is championing Together: Our Community Cookbook, showcasing more than 50 recipes from women from the Grenfell community to celebrate the power of cooking in bringing people together.
The Hubb Community Kitchen evolved after a group of women displaced by the fire gathered in the communal kitchen at Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in west London last summer to prepare fresh food for their families, friends and neighbours.
As they cooked together and shared recipes, word spread of the venture and more women joined in.
The Duchess visited in January and has continued to make regular private visits. In a foreword to the book, she describes being inspired by the women and their passion for cooking as a way of strengthening communities, as well as how the project empowers women at a grassroots level and how the kitchen is transforming lives and communities through cooking.
Describing her first visit, she writes that she asked how she could help. “An apron was quickly wrapped around me, I pushed up my sleeves and I found myself washing the rice for lunch … All the aromas percolating in a kitchen filled with countless languages aflutter remains one of my most treasured memories from my first visit to the kitchen.”
She adds: “I immediately felt connected to this community kitchen; it is a place for women to laugh, grieve, cry and cook together. Melding cultural identities under a shared roof, it creates space to feel a sense of normalcy – in its simplest form, the universal need to connect, nurture, and commune through food, through crisis or joy – something we can all relate to.
“Through this charitable endeavour, the proceeds will allow the kitchen to thrive and keep the global spirit of community alive.”
Describing her lifelong interest in the story of food, the Duchess reveals: “One of my own favourite meals is collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread – a meal I would look forward to throughout my childhood: the smell of yellow onions simmering amongst a slow-cooked pot of greens from my grandma’s back garden; the earthy textures of peas; and a golden loaf of cornbread puff-puffing away to a browned peak in the warmth of the oven.”
It was traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day, she writes. Other favourites include her mother’s gumbo, poutine and other Canadian culinary favourites, and Californian fish tacos.
The book, which features the women’s personal recipes from across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, go on international sale from this week published by Ebury Press. Supported by The Royal Foundation, the proceeds will go towards sustaining the Hubb Community Kitchen.
Munira Mahmud, 34, who started using the kitchen after being placed in a hotel after the fire, writes: “One day the Duchess of Sussex came to see us. 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! After we said that we could only use the kitchen twice a week due to funding, she mentioned: ‘How about sharing your recipes with other people?’ And that’s how it happened.”
ZahiraGhaswala, 38, a kitchen coordinator at Al Manaar, describes how a “passing conversation” during the duchess’s visit led to the book. The Duchess had asked why the kitchen was not open seven days. “And I said ‘funding’.
“And then we offered her the food. She saw the lovely food cooked by these women. So she goes: ‘Why not do a cookbook?’ At that time I thought it was a flying comment and that was it really. But now, here we are.”
In the introduction, the women of the Hubb Community Kitchen write: “Our kitchen has always been a place of good food, love, support and friendship. We cook the recipes we’ve grown up with; there’s no stress and the recipes always work because they have been made so many times … it’s proper comfort food.
“Swapping family recipes and moments of laughter gave us a sense of normality and home. We named ourselves the Hubb Community Kitchen to celebrate the thing that we all feel every time we meet – hubb means love in Arabic.”
Serena Williams was among the first to praise the project. The tennis star, a friend of the duchess, tweeted: “I used to call you Meghan (and I still do) but dear Duchess of Sussex your first project “Together” a cookbook bringing women of all cultures together. I could not be more excited about it and proud of you. It’s beautiful- diversity, inclusivity, coming together in grief or joy.”