Marc Albrighton and Ciaran Clark are cooking up a treat on and off the Villa Park pitch – by combining Aston Villa’s claret and blue with their chef whites.
Villa’s young duo have given Gerard Houllier food for thought with their sizzling performances since establishing themselves in the first team this season.
And they are serving up a recipe for success in the North Stand kitchens too after voluntarily signing up for a cookery course to improve their culinary skills.
A team of Bodymoor Heath academy graduates, also including Shane Lowry and Elliott Parish, are enjoying the weekly sessions with community chef Martin Smith.
The lessons aim to teach the young players how to independently prepare simple, healthy meals needed to keep them in tip top condition for training and matches.
Rather than reaching for takeaway menus, the fledgling footballers can give burgers the boot and replace them with more nutritional home-cooked foods.
“Me and Ciaran have been talking about moving into our own places,” explained Albrighton, who, along with his fellow foodies, approached training ground manager Paul Brackwell to enrol them.
“We know we can’t cook, so we need to learn. It’s a must. When you’re living on your own you need to be able to cook healthy food.
“You can’t just go out and have takeaways every night. We can’t keep eating junk food, we’ve got to be able to have healthy food and that’s what we’re getting taught here.
“We’re cooking things like chicken stir fries, chicken curries and spaghetti bolognese and that can only be good for you. In the last few weeks everybody’s loved it. It’s been a right laugh and we’ve cooked great food as well.”
“I’m not bad at cooking now. My mom forgot to take the beef out the other week, so it didn’t defrost in time, but I said ‘Leave it with me’.
“I went to Asda, picked up all the in ingredients and saved the Sunday. I saved the day and made everyone a stir fry at home and it went down a treat!”
After giving the claret and blue faithful an appetising starter in the first few months of the season, both Albrighton and Clark are ready for many more courses after signing contract extensions until 2014 – by which time they should be Premier stars, if not quite Michelin stars.
“It’s great that the manager is placing faith in the younger players,” added Albrighton. “We’ve grown up at the club and we’ve worked for these chances so it’s a dream for us that we’re coming through together.”
Clark is proving his versatility for Villa and the rookie defender excelled in the pressure cooker Brum derby in an unfamiliar role last weekend.
But after coping with the heat of the Premier League and the kitchen, the 21-year-old is in no hurry to learn too many other household skills.
“Before, beans and toast was probably about all I could do to be honest, but this gives you more of an idea of good stuff to cook,” said Clark. “It’s just some simple meals that are ready in 30 minutes. It’s all been edible – it’s been really nice actually.
“Obviously if we make mistakes we know we’ll learn from them. A couple of the lads have made a few mistakes, but that’s expected when you’re starting out. My mum and my landlady are loving it. To be fair they have mentioned me cooking for them so I’m sure I’ll be doing that in the next couple of weeks. It would be a nice thank you to them.
“I think I’ll put the washing and ironing side of it off for a while, cooking’s enough for me at the minute!”
Clark, himself, deserves his tasty new contract after bouncing back from the early-season roasting at Newcastle to produce a feast of football under Houllier. “I am definitely moving in the right direction,” he added.
“I have played a few more games and I am just looking to progress now. Hopefully I will get a few before the end of the season and just keep working hard and progressing.
“Once you get that extra three years on your contract you have a bit of security there. You know you can concentrate without worrying.”
Last week, Villa’s footballing chefs also dined at VMF to promote the restaurant scheme set up by the club to give local youngsters cooking and hospitality training.
It is open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7pm-10pm, in the Directors area of Trinity Road with three course meals now priced £18.50.
* Visit www.avhe.co.uk or phone 0121 326 1570 for more details.