As a staunch supporter of Down Syndrome Ireland for years, Rachel Allen recently launched the 2018 HB Fundays Campaign, which calls on the public to raise much-needed funds for Down Syndrome Ireland (DSI) by hosting a party with HB Hazelbrook Farm ice cream.
We got to sit down with the celebrity chef to talk to her about her experience at The Restaurant on TV3, ask her some tips to feed children properly and of course, her engagement in this important fundraising campaign*.
Rachel, why is the Down Syndrome cause particularly close to your heart?
Like anyone who has either children themselves or friends and neighbours who have children with Down Syndrome, it’s something that we are all aware of. It is such a struggle that I feel it’s important to get funding for those who are in need. At the moment they are not getting enough from the government so it’s really down to the families and the friends and people willing to help out with fundraising.
What are exactly HB Fundays and how can people get involved?
It’s a really good and fun way to fundraise. If you register online, HB will send you out a party pack with free vouchers. You go to the shop, pick up your block of HB Hazelbrook Farm ice cream, you organise a little party and you charge your guests something like €2, so they will enjoy some lovely ice cream in exchange for a small amount of money. That money then goes straight to Down Syndrome Ireland.
What is the money used for?
It is used in lots of different areas. It helps provide extra help in school, but also with the preparation for the transition from primary to senior school,, which is a very important time. While children who don’t have Down Syndrome might be more able for this transition, it is something that children with Down Syndrome can struggle with, going to a bigger school, with older children. It also goes to a lot of other educational areas as well. What everyone wants it to have children with Down Syndrome integrated into schools with children who don't have it rather than being segmented off, either into a separate school or a separate classroom. They should all be integrated as it is educational for everyone, the children who have it, and those who don’t.
Can you tell us about your experience in The Restaurant?
It was really great. The cooks did a really great job, some of them were stronger for starters, or for mains. I enjoyed trying to guess who they might be or what gender they might be. I really loved filming for The Restaurant!
Will you be there again next year?
If they ask me, I would probably be very interested, yes.
What was the worst dish you had on the show?
To tell the truth, there wasn’t one awful dish, everything was edible. There maybe were some combination which were slightly odd and I didn’t quite get them. But there really wasn’t one disaster.
As a mother of three, do you have advice for busy mums who want to feed their children properly?
You need to find out what they like, whether it is peas or mashed potatoes, it doesn’t have to be fancy, just simple good food. Then try to introduce new flavours every so often. Have boiled eggs and fruits as a convenience fast food. Just don’t keep anything you don’t want to them eating in the hous - that might sound a bit harsh for some but you can do it gradually. The children, especially the younger ones, are only eating what we give them! Introducing good eating habits from as early on as possible will make a huge difference. Try and get them involved, helping you pick up fruits, for example, to plant some herbs for the window seal, it gets them excited about food.
Any tip you used for your own children?
My mum gave me a really good tip. She told me to just cut up some raw vegetables and put them on a plate. I’d want to say “Eat these they are really good for you” but my mum said to me “Don’t say anything, just leave them there”. While they are watching TV or playing, they would just slowly munch away the vegetables, maybe unconsciously. I was the same when I was younger, I remember loving raw carrots, cucumber and peppers rather than when they were cooked.
What do you answer to people who think good food is expensive?
Well, it is not if you know how to prepare it, how to shop properly and if you are slightly organised. Avoid shopping for strawberries and tomatoes in December, wait until the summer and go for carrots and roots vegetables in the winter. Thinking in seasons is definitely very important.
Is there a chef you particularly look up to or whose restaurant you’d really want to visit?
David Thompson is an Australian chef who had a restaurant in Bangkok serving Thai food. I have been to a couple of food shows where he cooked absolutely amazing dishes and I happen to love this food when I am in this part of the world.
*Down Syndrome Ireland have just launched their 2018 HB Fundays Campaign to raise much needed funds for members aged four - 18 years old in education. To host your own HB Fundays Ice Cream Party this May or June, simply call 1890 37 37 37 or register online at www.downsyndrome.ie to receive your party pack and to find out more information on Down Syndrome Ireland. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #HBFundays.