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This Guy is Raising Money to Send His Mother to Culinary School

Like many African immigrant mothers in the UK, Elnete Da Silva never had the opportunity to study for a professional qualification. Until now.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Castillo

"When I stopped eating meat and fish, at first my Mum was like, 'you're an idiot,'" says 23-year-old Rui Da Silva. "But then she was like, 'I'm gonna cook you something banging, because I'm a sick cook.' My favourite thing she makes is this curry salad chickpea something, it's a madness. I tried to replicate it, thinking I could because she's just throwing things together, but she does something special. It's a combination of loads of stuff, and it just tastes amazing."


For second-generation immigrants in the UK, food is often one of the strongest connections we have with our "other" homes—the countries we name when we're asked the dreaded "No, where are you really from?" question. For our parents, food is a symbol of a tie to the places they have left behind. I grew up with dozens of (so-called) Aunties who are fantastic cooks, but food preparation was always something done alongside raising families, paying bills, and working multiple jobs. Despite African immigrant mothers stereotypically being known for their cooking skills, they are rarely the people afforded the opportunities to write cookbooks or set up restaurants, let alone study for cooking qualifications.

Last week, Rui Da Silva secretly set up a GoFundMe page as a surprise for his mother, Elnete. Wanting to study for a professional cookery qualification at the University of West London but turned down for financial support, the money raised will pay the fees. With the £2,000 target surpassed in only a few days (and still going), Rui and Elnete spoke to MUNCHIES about cooking, motherhood, and the importance of food in immigrant communities.

MUNCHIES: Elnete, why do you want to go to uni now?
Elnete Da Silva: For more knowledge. When you're home you cook in your way, and you learn so many things by yourself. But I want to go and see how other people do it—I'm trying to do more.

And Rui, why did you want to help your Mum with this?
Rui Da Silva: My Mum has always expressed the idea that she wants to take her cooking further. She was always saying things but I didn't sit down and think, 'oh, my Mum wants to do this, let me try and help her.' Then eventually, I was like, 'you know what Mum, let's sit down and have a conversation.' And we sat down and spoke about what she wanted to do, and she had so many ideas about cooking. The one thing that was holding her back was that she didn't have any qualifications to go into the environments she wanted to. She's been a dinner lady for over ten years and she doesn't have any way to prove to people that she can do what she can do as well as she can.


Elnete Da Silva with Rui as a child. Photo courtesy Rui Da Silva.

How big a part of your life has cooking been?
Elnete: My Mum back home always cooked. I grew up with it, and the passion to cook, and I love to eat. I cook like my mother did. A few years ago, I also had breast cancer. When you're at home for so long, you can sit down and just do nothing. For me, my mind just went everywhere and used to drive me mad. So the best things I could do for myself was to come to the kitchen and see what I have and what I can cook, to pass the time.

Rui: When she got cancer, it was a huge shock, and it was very hard for my brother and sister to see Mum so weak. They had never seen that before, and she still needed to be strong for them. So she cooked quite a lot, to show that she was still strong for my little brother. She wasn't able to do many physical things with him, but cooking she was still able to do. She also couldn't do much, but cooking? She still had control over that aspect of her life. It's been something she's always had control over.

Why do you think food and cooking so important to immigrant communities in the UK?
Elnete: When you go somewhere else as an immigrant, you come out of your
comfort zone. When you were home you ate one type of food, and if you're out of your country you want to eat it. As an immigrant, I think it's vital the kids at home eat what we as their parents used to eat. It's part of us.

As an immigrant, I think it's vital the kids at home eat what we as their parents used to eat. It's part of us.


Rui: It's hugely important. When my Mum went from Africa to Portugal, and then to England, a lot of people that came with her—cousins and her family and whatnot—had different skills. But when they came to England and tried to use their skills here, they couldn't. But the one thing that everyone kind of had in common was they still had access to eating the food they could have back home. There was still a part of us that we could hold safe and share with each other. For me growing up, there wasn't a lot of evidence of my family members' past lives. Food was the only way I could access what their lives were like when they were growing up. They would talk over the food: the different things that they would do to get it, the different fruits and things they had when they were growing up. Food was a continual conversation; it was a way to engage with my Aunties, my Uncles, my Mum. It made everything easier. I think about food, and I dunno: it would be a lot harder to start a conversation with my Aunties without it.

Elnete and Rui today. Photo courtesy Rui Da Silva.

Do you have any hopes or dreams for the future?
Elnete: Right now, I work in a school, I'm a dinner lady. I enjoy the kids—they compliment you day-by-day, and every day is different—but I don't mind the idea of doing something different one day.

Rui: I really want her to stop working—I feel like it's one of the things that takes away happiness from her life is that she doesn't really have control over her life. She has a lot of ideas, great ones, but she hasn't been able to do anything creative for the last twenty to 25 years, if I think about it. So whatever route she goes down, I don't really mind, as long as she has access to be creative. I'd like her to have full control over her ideas, and the access and opportunity to do whatever she wants.

Thank you both for speaking with me and good luck with your studies, Elnete!

You can donate to Elnete's GoFundMe page here.