SHIRLEY Quarmby hails from a generation who learned how to cook healthy meals from scratch.

Back then there wasn’t the fast food environment surrounding us as there is today with food available at speed to feed today’s quick-paced population.

Convenience foods are just that and many families are forced to rely on frozen meals when trying to juggle family life around a full-time job.

Refreshingly though, programmes such as the popular Great British Bake Off are tempting more people to get into their kitchens and bake....

There are TV programmes, tips and ideas demonstrating how it is possible to cook from scratch on a budget and using up things in your fridge which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Knowing how to cook is an essential life skill and it is one that Shirley, like many, learned from watching the master at work - their mum.

Grandmas were also great educators when it came to feeding the family. Times were probably much harder back then without all the time-saving household gadgets we have to lighten the load - washing machines, dish washers and so it goes on - you could argue that women of that generation had more time to meal plan and prepare fresh food for the family but they had other obstacles - what about rationing when certain foods were limited - there was no popping on the road for a pizza. Life was hard yet I bet bellies were still full!

“We didn’t have the fast food environment. I learned from my Mum to cook everything from scratch,” says Shirley, a self-confessed keen home cook and home baker.

Eager to share her food - and inspired through Lynn Hill’s Clandestine Cake Club who wanted to bring people together through baking - Shirley began her own journey to bring food lovers literally to her table.

It is seven years ago since the 52-year-old began hosting pop up afternoon teas. The location is kept secret and booking is via the Facebook site Chez Shamwari - African for ‘My Friend’s House.’

“The whole concept was about bringing people together who become friends over a cup of tea and a nice piece of cake,” explains Shirley.

The size of the venue dictates a limit of six diners making it both a unique and intimate experience Shirley is keen to share with fellow fans of good food.

Shirley explains she sets the menu and publishes dates through her Facebook site. Those interested in dining at the pop up are asked for dietary requirements and Shirley confirms the details and location closer to the date.

“I generally start my event at 2pm in the afternoon and then run until 4 or 5pm and even though I can only take six people generally people come in twos or fours but you are sitting around a table with people you have not met before and people enjoy that,” says Shirley.

The experience is aimed at people who appreciate good food which is why Shirley spends so much time on the preparation of delicately cut finger sandwiches and savouries and patisseries including macarons and Gateau Opera, a layered cake with coffee, buttercream and chocolate ganache.

“It is hard work but I do really love the creative side. I get a lot of my ideas from visual things I see,” explains Shirley.

“It is important to me that guests enjoy it,”she says.

Shirley believes programmes such as The Great British Bake Off are helping to nurture a love of cooking.

“People can see that they can try baking at home. You see people make mistakes and in that sense it is good because it is realistic you make mistakes but it doesn’t matter,” says Shirley.

Interestingly, Shirley recently added another string to her culinary bow when she qualified as a professional pastry chef at Le Cordon Bleu in London in June.

Encouraged by the comments she receives for her cooking, Shirley is hoping to eventually pursue it as a profession enabling more people to enjoy her culinary creations.

“I am going to continue pushing the doors and seeing where it goes,” she says.

Adding: “I never thought of it as a profession until as I got older and became more confident in my skills. People said ‘you have something here you follow your dreams’ and so began this journey.”

Visit @chezshamwari on Facebook. Shirley’s creations are also showcased on Instagram and Twitter. For more information about Le Cordon Bleu in London visit