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John: Chef at West Heath House

Chef at West Heath House

John, from Birmingham, has been the Chef at West Heath House, one of Brainkind’s neurobehavioural centres, which specialises in the rehabilitation of people with acquired brain injury and complex needs, for the past 16 years.

John moved to West Heath House from the NHS, where he had become increasingly frustrated with how isolated he was from the people he was cooking for. His previous role didn’t allow him the kind of personal interactions with people he needed to feel he was doing his best work. He initially took the position at West Heath House to explore his options but immediately felt at home there.

John said:

It is so rewarding to support people on their recovery journey. Just one of the benefits of working in a service like this is that you build up a good rapport with the people, it’s fun, and you get to see amazing transformations. It’s why I stayed – if your work is helping them, you can see it right there in the smiles on people’s faces.

Each day starts with John and his kitchen assistant, Sophie looking at the meal choices the people we support have made. The people we support design the menus at the client forums, which John, and Sophie both attend because they feel strongly that giving them ownership and listening to their ideas helps to aid their recovery.

John goes on to explain:

We have all sorts of requests – food is fundamental to everyone’s wellbeing and having the food you like when you’re going through a difficult time can speed up your recovery. Sometimes people arrive here saying they are vegetarians or meat eaters. However, after a brain injury, their tastes have changed. They want to try something different, and we ensure they always have a couple of options if they change their minds, just like you and I do.

There is input from our nutritionist Louise and other professionals like the speech and language department. It can be a steep learning curve, but we are committed to providing everyone with tasty and exciting recipes to help them feel their best, regardless of dietary requirements.

The kitchen is a really fun workplace, and there is always lots of laughter and banter at service times with everyone. The people we support, or their staff, often drop by for a chat about the day’s menu or to inform us if they want to make any changes.

John’s philosophy is simple:

Cooking comes from the heart, and you need lots of heart, soul and personality for this job. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the right qualifications; as long as you like cooking and creating and want to make a difference in people’s lives, you can learn everything else on the job. It’s all about making positive differences and connections through food.

Every part of the Brainkind family, whether someone who provides hands-on care or is part of the broader support function, plays a key role in achieving good outcomes for people with an acquired brain injury and helps them thrive.

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