Charismatic chef’s fare takes Lanarkshire town by storm

Published: Thursday 23 July 2020

Mr T centre with his wife Caroline (left) and son, Armani, right. On the left (left to right) is Jackie Partridge and Janice Keegans.

A Nigerian chef, affectionately known as Mr T, has cooked up a storm of kindness in a Lanarkshire town.

Mr T – real name Tuoyo Ayiku – is at the centre of a crack unit of volunteers who have been providing thousands of free African meals to vulnerable residents, cooking and delivering mouth-watering cuisine for people in Larkhall, many of whom have been shielding.

Mr T’s menu ranges from delicious African stews, curries, rainbow fried rice, jerk chicken to Scottish staples – including mince and tatties.

Yet the larger-than-life chef, whose volunteer A-Team have dished up almost 5000 meals since his lockdown menu launched in May, revealed how sad personal circumstances have steeled a long-established resolve to help others.

“My mum, Loretta Jemide, died at the end of last year in Nigeria,” explained Tuoyo (45) who is one of eight siblings. “When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot but I can remember our Mum always discussing and planning the ingredients for her soup.

“She was a selfless, happy human being – and instilled a passion in me for cooking using basic ingredients. She believed a delicious meal can bring a smile to people’s faces, no matter what. That is what we are trying to do here in Scotland.”

Mr T is a well-known character across the Lanarkshire volunteering community

Supported by Voluntary Action South Lanarkshire (VASLan) – who are a key partner in South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership – Mr T instigated the formation of registered charity Heart of Africa in 2015, shortly after arriving in Scotland. The social enterprise aims to bring people together through a love of cooking.

Along with co-founders, wife Caroline and friend Sharon Keegans, they introduced a pay-what-you-can box for diners in a Cambuslang community café. Prior to lockdown – and working with a range of community partners  – Mr T also ran popular cookery and dancing classes.

He is currently working with umbrella community group Larkhall Covid Rainbows, a partnership between Community Links, Larkhall and District Volunteer Group (who have provided the kitchen access and two minibuses to deliver the meals), Larkhall Community Growers, community members and a variety of local private and public partners.

“The last few months have been a time where people need to band together,” continued Tuoyo. “We need to rely on each other to ensure those who are isolating and shielding have what they need.”

He added: “We provide lunches from Monday to Friday. There’s a different meal everyday and the menu is posted on Facebook at the end of the week.

“There’s a lot to cook but with Government backing from the Food Fund, our small but hardworking volunteer team has stepped up to the plate when local people have needed it most.

“Our volunteers deliver the food to people’s doors. We’ve had an incredible response from the community and expect a whole host of new customers when the community café reopens.”

Tuoyo added: “Just like African culture, cooking is keeping community spirit alive here in Lanarkshire. I think my mum would be really proud.”

Val de Souza, Chief Officer of South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said Mr T’s efforts personified a community resilience that has abounded throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

“Long before the pandemic struck, our partnership had established a programme called Building and Celebrating Communities.  This recognises and seeks to nurture and build the inherent strength within communities as part of our partnership approach.

“VASLan have been instrumental in providing Tuoyo with the initial support to get up and running. Now that he is well-established, this social enterprise has blossomed - in challenging times.

“Along with community partners, Tuoyo has led an absolutely crucial, community-based and community-driven response to this crisis. In doing so, this vital work has gone a long way to supporting the efforts of statutory partners.”

CEO of VASLan hails local resilience

Gordon Bennie, Chief Executive of VASLan says Mr T’s actions have been reflective of a wider cohesive effort seen in the South Lanarkshire volunteering community.

“The immediate response to the crisis has been phenomenal.  The extraordinary efforts of Community Response groups and Third Sector organisations across South Lanarkshire has provided vital support for families and individuals.

“The future may be uncertain, but the talent, drive and commitment of people like Mr T highlights the importance of developing services to reflect changing demand within our communities.

“Great nutritious food knows no bounds, you just need all the ingredients!”