POSITIVE PEOPLE: Andrew Mackintosh, Bernadette MacDonald-Raggett and Patrick Campbell
A LOT of people have tried to give Gordon Ramsay a run for this money and failed, but motivational speaker and prison volunteer, Bernadette MacDonald-Raggett, has managed to do it.
After watching the star chef's TV programme, Gordon Behind Bars, where he taught prisoners how to cook, MacDonald-Raggett enlisted the help of the top chef, Andrew Mackintosh, from Islington based Caribbean Restaurant, Cottons, to come into a Dorset prison and do the same thing as a part of Black History Month.
"Basically I saw the show on TV and there Gordon was in Brixton prison teaching the prisoners how to cook, and I thought to myself 'hold on, I am not being funny but why do they only have a white chef?’ I felt they should have had a black chef in addition to him because of the place he was in. So, I called up a friend of mine [TV executive Patrick Campbell] who works at OHTV and I said 'we should do the same thing', then he put me in touch with Andrew," she explained.
"I wanted to bring them both in because a lot of black men need a role models now. I said to the governor of the prison that I had a black film director and black top chef who were willing to come down, and asked permission to invite them to the prison and he said, ‘yes!’ He gave me the chance and the respect, told me to run it with the diversity manager and we got everything together."
While detailing the events of the October 31 visit, MacDonald-Raggett, described how ‘surprised’ the prisoners were to see a successful black chef amongst their ranks, before saying that they were 'visibly moved' by Mackintosh's inspirational talk on how he had overcome adversity on his journey to forge an prosperous career.
"He [Mackintosh] told them straight that he did not wake up one day and become a success. He spoke about his journey into catering and you could see that the group was so inspired. The governor actually said that he has never seen them so well behaved (laughs)! I think they just couldn't believe that they would take out the time to do something like this, they probably thought they won the national lotto!" she said.
The group of forty inmates also got the rare opportunity to enjoy a platter of Caribbean food prepared under the watchful gaze of the award-winning chef.
The visit also prompted five black members of the group, all of whom were frustrated chefs and had not completed their formal education, to approach Mackintosh and ask for assistance when they were released.
"Before the visit I knew that five of the guys who attended wanted to be chefs and that was a part of the reason I asked for them to come. I listened to what they said and I wanted to help them. The five of them came to this meeting and put their hands up and Andrew said 'right here is my name and number, we are telling you now that we will support you'," she said.
"It was enough for you to make you get your hanky out (laughs), but truly it was just amazing to witness it happening and I know he will be true to his word. He has already been invited back to the prison and we are in talks of getting some workshops done here and in other prisons in the future, so it's all happening."
As a result of this successful venture, MacDonald-Raggett, who currently advises the New Society Organisation of Caribbean Affairs in Brixton, says that black role models are desperately needed to show young black men that there is 'another path to follow'.
"We [black people] have got to regroup and show the world that we can do things together and for ourselves. You have all these positive people who are willing to help, it is up to us to put things in action," she concludes.