Food, glorious food!
After 13 years as a chef for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH), Julie Knott describes her decision to join the charity as the “best thing I ever did”.
Milton-based Julie spends her days cooking up a feast of mouth-watering meals and treats – all heartily enjoyed by children, families, staff and volunteers.
The hospice environment is certainly different to her previous role at Girton College, one of the 31 constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge.
However, after taking time out following the birth of her son, Julie jumped at the chance to try something new and hasn’t looked back since.
She started as a cook/housekeeper but, when the hospice chef left, was given an opportunity to take the reins.
“It’s very different, going from catering for hundreds of people to a much smaller hospice community,” said Julie, who lives in Girton.
“I didn’t know what to expect or what it was going to be like working here.
“However, I can safely say it was the best thing I ever did. I absolutely love it, am so passionate about my job and love pretty much every day at Milton.
“The satisfaction from looking after and feeding our families is immense.
“Sometimes when they come here they’re absolutely shattered, especially if they have other children or have come straight to us from Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
“They haven’t got the time or inclination to cook a meal, so for me to be able to do it for them is a very special and amazing feeling.
“They can sit back and relax and don’t have to think about things. They don’t have to worry about food or care for their child.
“A lot of them say it’s a weight lifted from their shoulders and that’s hugely rewarding to hear.
“I get lovely feedback and it means a lot when people say, ‘I enjoyed that’. I know I got it right when that happens.”
Julie, a pastry chef by trade, works full-time and can be found cooking up something special every weekday, from 8.30am until 4.30pm.
Two cooks/housekeepers cover for her at the weekend and she loves being around the children, young people and families at Milton.
“I do a lot of cooking with siblings and also the children who come to us for care,” said the 58-year-old.
“We have pizza days and make things like buns and cakes.
“I write my own menus and plan them a month in advance, but always try to be flexible and let children choose the things they like.
“I get to know them and their dietary requirements.
“I cater for children who have a blended diet (food that is put in a blender, turned into a puree and fed to children through a feeding tube) and also produce ketogenic food (which forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates and is recommended for children with epilepsy).
“In fact, EACH recently paid for me to complete a diploma in ketogenics, which I gained a distinction in.
“That support and encouragement makes a huge difference and shows this is a job I’m always learning in. I pick up something new every day.”
Julie’s menu changes all the time and may depend on what food is being delivered or items that need using up in the fridge or freezer.
In addition to meals, she also offers lighter options like jacket potatoes, paninis and soup and has themed days, like ‘Veggie Wednesdays’.
As a pastry chef, she also conjures up a different dessert every day, from cakes and sponges to gateaux and pavlova.
“Sometimes a family will come to me and say, ‘we really fancy such an such’ and I’ll always do my best to accommodate them,” said Julie.
“It’s about cooking what’s popular and I always try to be flexible, tweaking my menu all the time.
“Much depends on what families are with us at certain times.
“For instance, we might have a Muslin family who only eat permitted food (halal) and will not eat or drink anything considered forbidden (haram).
“That would mean sourcing specific meats and vegetables, which I’m always happy to do.”
Julie, who has a son, two daughters and a three-year-old grandson, admits working in a hospice has changed her perception of what it might be like.
Far from doom and gloom, she describes it as a ‘fun, friendly and positive’ environment.
“The care team do so much with the children,” she said.
“I like standing back and watching them at work and I love chatting to the children.
“Sometimes they’ll just appear at the counter and watch me cook. They seem to enjoy it!
“We’ve got an amazing team here and I know how busy they are, so always make a point of finding them and making a note of what they want for lunch.
“We’re one big wheel with lots of different spokes and it’s those spokes that keep the wheel moving. We all support each other.”