Sydney chef and health experts join forces to create brain-friendly birthday cake for Meals on Wheels

Sydney chef and health experts join forces to create brain-friendly birthday cake for Meals on Wheels
  • PublishedDecember 7, 2023

When asked to consider foods that are good for our brains, cake may not immediately spring to mind.

But the “Unforgettable Cake”, a collaboration between renowned pastry chef Christopher Thé and health experts from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), boasts a brain-friendly ingredients list that reads more like a salad.

It was developed as part of birthday celebrations for NSW-based food delivery charity Meals on Wheels, which has been delivering meals to (mostly older) Australians for 70 years.

“The first version I did tasted like a curry,” Mr Thé admits.

He said it took “three or four goes” to successfully combine the foods listed in his unusual brief, which included beetroot, spinach, olive oil, turmeric and pumpkin.

“Usually I approach cake-making from a flavour and visual perspective first, but this has really opened my eyes, to consider the benefits you can get through what you eat,” he said.

The texture of the cake, which will be delivered to Meals on Wheels clients as part of the celebrations, has also been designed to cater to people who have difficulty swallowing.

UNSW food and health expert Johannes Le Coutre said the concept of ‘functional foods’ was increasingly being recognised as a vital part of preserving cognitive function.

“There are molecules in food ingredients which have powerful and strong effects in keeping us healthy,” he said.

He said a useful way to think about brain function was in comparison to running a car.

“As a car gets older, you get little dings and dents and scratches. Similar things happen as we age, and we want to prevent damage from happening.

“So trying to avoid damage happening on one hand, and then fixing them [on the other], is what food can do.

“We are beginning to understand that specific ingredients can play a role in the onset of cognitive decline by fixing damage as it occurs and making sure our basic mode of operating is well taken care of.”

A close-up of the frosting of a cake.
The cake’s texture has been designed in a way that caters to people who have difficulty swallowing.(ABC News: Geoff Kemp)
A man, Johannes Le Coutre, stands in the foreground as a trio of people sit and chat in the background.
UNSW food and health expert Johannes Le Coutre says specific ingredients can play a role in preserving cognitive function.(ABC News: Geoff Kemp)

Meals on Wheels has grown considerably since its inception and these days delivers approximately 4.5 million meals each year.

CEO Les Macdonald said the Unforgettable Cake served as a good conversation starter about issues that affect many of the charity’s clientele.

“We thought it would be timely to have a meaningful conversation about the serious issue of cognitive decline, which includes dementia and Alzheimer’s, and impacts many… within our community,” he said.

Sharing a slice of cake, he adds, can have social benefits too.


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