Dale SPINK always wanted to be a footballer.
He was even signed by Leeds United FC academy when he was just six years old.
But when he hit 14 he was told they no longer wanted him.
“It was devastating,” recalls dad-of-one Dale, now 25.
“Like many footballers I wasn’t particularly great at school but suddenly I found myself without the career I had envisaged. It is hard to accept that when you are 14.”
Dale struggled to get his GCSEs – taking his maths four times – all while working part time in the kitchen of a pub.
“I loved cooking, mainly because I really like pleasing people and making them happy.”
He was advised by his boss at the time not to become a chef because the hours and lifestyle were so brutal and resulted in many failed relationships.
“I didn’t understand why it had to be like that,” he says. “I love what I do, but I don’t see why it has to be the way people perceive it to be.”
Dale attended Leeds City College and was taught by celebrity chef Stephanie Moon and was determined to make a go of his career.
After working in a number of restaurants, he decided to set up his own catering company – Mr D’s Meal Prep – providing nutritious meals to sportsmen and athletes.
But with the onset of the pandemic 80 per cent of Dale’s business dried up and suddenly he was left with a lot of capacity at his kitchen unit in Leeds.
A chance meeting with Haydn Jessop, director of Armley-based Vulnerable Citizen Support, led to the idea for Hope Kitchen.
“I grew up on a Leeds council estate and we didn’t have much and then when Covid hit I was worried like so many people how we were going to make ends meet and so I really wanted to do something to help people who were vulnerable,” says Dale.
“I know how difficult it can be to ask for help. People are proud but I couldn’t stand the thought of people going hungry. I wanted to give something back. To me food is hope.
“We came up with the idea for Hope Kitchen where we would cook nutritious meals every Monday which would then be delivered by Haydn’s team and volunteers at Vulnerable Citizen Support.”
Dale was also inspired by one of the people that the charity has helped. Former homeless drug addict Josh Ellis has been more than 70 days clean and Haydn gave him the chance to help out at Hope Kitchen.
“Josh is such an inspiration to me. I believe everyone should be able to have a second chance and he has just shown what can happen when you do.”
Dale, with the help of a team of volunteers and food donated from suppliers, cooked 500 meals last week which were all distributed to those in need.
This Monday he was joined by his former tutor, chef consultant Steph Moon, and MasterChef the Professionals finalist Matt Healy.
“When Dale asked me if I would help out I was more than happy to and it was a great day. It was so nice to be back in a kitchen cooking with other chefs,” says Steph. “The charity runs on food companies donating, so any food companies out there with foods that are going to waste please give Haydn at Vulnerable Citizen Support a call and liaise with him – all foods is gratefully received. A donation that really stood out to me on my visit was 500 chicken drumsticks from Soanes Poultry – wow, what a donation. I am so proud of Dale, that young student I taught years ago”
Matt Healy, who is chef patron of Gron Kafe in Harrogate, York and Leeds, was forced to permanently close his eponymous restaurant Matt Healy x The Foundry in December.
“Dale and I grew up in the same part of Leeds. Dale reached out to me and as hard as I have had it this year, with my restaurant going down, many have had it far worse. This is a great initiative I wanted to show my support too.” Dale estimates that they sent out nearly 1,000 meals on Monday.
“I like to put a little extra something in the box,” he says. “Just to make people feel that someone cares about them when they open it.”
Dale has started an ‘anonymous fridge’ project in some local primary schools so that children can access nutritious food wothut any stigma. And if all that wasn’t enough Dale, who has one year old daughter Brontae with partner Elkie Kilbride, is opening a new restaurant, named after his daughter in Horsforth on May 17. Although the pandemic has delayed the opening of his restaurant, Dale believes it is a chance to revitalise the hospitality industry .
“I want to go back to ‘old school’ ways of doing things – it is about the experience for me and there is no better time than now to do this,” he says. “The last year has been tough – I know I take on too much and sometimes that affects my mental health, but Elkie has really helped me through. And just being able to give something back has given me such a sense of fulfilment it has really helped me.
“We know mental health is a massive thing around now, after this year it’s bigger than ever. We all need to show ourselves self love and self reward, we all deserve it. We want to make sure everyone who comes to us feels that ‘treat yourself’ moment even more. But it isn’t just about the customers it is about looking after the staff as well. I want it to be a job for life. We are only doing an evening service so that is people work late they don’t need to be in early. Even after his restaurant opens, Dale says he will continue to cook for Vulnerable Citizens Support.
“I’m not in it for the short-term.”