Nothing makes Natesha Shalliker happier than being in the kitchen.
Her passion for cooking has been passed down through her family from generation to generation.
Natesha began learning about flavours as a child while watching her mother and grandma in the kitchen and sampling their meals.
"I don't like spicy food, but I really like tasty food," she said.
Born with a neurological condition and other disabilities including developmental delay, Natesha faced significant challenges in taking her cooking to the next level.
She lives with her family, who are supporting the 20-year-old to build a cottage business making jams and sauces.
The family garage is being turned into a commercial kitchen, so Natesha can grow her business from home in Sydney.
While Natesha was undertaking a TAFE course, her family realised she also needed to "fine tune" some of her cooking skills.
Using part of her funding from her National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan, she began a food and education program — The Cooks Workshop, run by Jennie Thompson.
"It's about creativity, fun ... and upskilling people with basic cooking skills," Jennie said.
It was a chance meeting with Natesha's parents at a disability expo that brought her and Jennie together.
Natesha has weekly lessons with Jennie and looks forward to learning about food in the kitchen and on their shopping trips.
"Natesha can be strongly intuitive when it comes to cooking," Jennie said.
"It's about putting flavours together and tasting those flavours, and knowing what goes with what."
Cooking healthy meals together
Dedicated to promoting the independence of people with disability, the program teaches clients how to plan, shop for and cook healthy meals.
Jennie began her business by running workshops in group homes, disability care homes, and workspaces.
When the pandemic hit, she started working one-on-one with clients, including people living with intellectual disability, autism and mental health issues.
Barriers around food and cooking for people with disability include difficulty accessing supermarkets, cooking equipment, and understanding dietary needs.
Jennie takes into account all of these issues when developing individualised and goal-driven programs for her clients.
"I do a survey before we start to find out what their likes, dislikes and sensitivities are," she said.
Jennie spends three hours every week with Natesha and they go to the supermarket to buy ingredients before each cooking session.
Shopping independently can be difficult for many of Jennie's clients, as being faced with the vast number of product choices can be challenging.
"We discuss what's a good vegetable to buy, whether it's squishy or, you know, what's the right one," Jennie said.
"We look at prices, different meat cuts ... and look at the different spices and discuss what you do with them."
Using less sugar and creating healthier options for people with disability is also important, especially for those with specific diets.
For Natesha, being healthy is important. She goes to the gym and athletics to keep fit and feel strong.
Jennie has helped Natesha to set goals to improve her cooking and start her business.
They've been brainstorming names for the products and Natesha plans to launch her jams and sauces at local markets in May next year.
"I'm excited," Natesha said.
'Kicking goals, big time'
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said there were many unwritten stories like Natesha's about participants who were using the scheme to develop new skills and become more independent.
"I hope this participant achieves her goals and is able to open up her own business. It would be a fantastic achievement," Mr Shorten said.
"This builds a stronger family network and connected community.
"The benefits of the [NDIS] extend to participants' families and carers."
Jennie said the success of her classes was about finding synergy and engagement with clients.
Often, she'll play Natesha's favourite music — Taylor Swift and Little Mix — while they're cooking.
Jennie said Natesha's dexterity and general food preparation skills had greatly improved.
"She's very good at tasting and analysing the salt, sweet, and sour balance in food," Jennie said.
While Natesha likes trying new things in the kitchen, Jennie hasn't been able to convince her to use more chilli in her cooking.
"I'm pretty hard on Jennie in saying no to the chilli," Natesha laughed. "But I enjoy the chopping and the stirring and the colour."
Natesha's confidence has grown, a testament to the friendship that has developed between the pair over the last 12 months.
"Natesha is kicking goals, big time, all the time," Jennie said.