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Cambridge’s Chef Donkey attempts Paper Clip Challenge... with an onion

If you’re aged 25 or under, there’s a strong possibility you’ll have heard of a popular YouTube trend called the Paper Clip Challenge, where someone attempts to trade nothing more than a paper clip with others with the aim of upgrading it to see how far they can go.

Chef Donkey, aka Jason Howard of Shanty Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Donkey, aka Jason Howard of Shanty Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Now a Cambridge chef is doing a similar thing – starting with an onion. Chef Donkey – Jason Howard of Shanty Cambridge – has been out and about on the streets of the city this week with his favourite ingredient and is hoping to swap it up for a food shopping voucher to cook for local charity, Jimmy’s.

Armed with just a camera and an onion, Jason approaches people – or invariably they approach him. When we spoke on Tuesday (August 16), he was on his way into Cambridge for the second day of the challenge and revealed that on Monday he managed three swaps.

“I’m up to a vape,” he reveals, “a brand new vape which is worth £6 something.” He continues: “The idea came from the Paper Clip Challenge, where people have traded a paper clip up to a house – so I want to take that same idea. Because I’m a chef, I’ve brought food into it and I started with my favourite ingredient, which is an onion.

“I want to trade it up to a potential shopping voucher and then use the voucher to cook for Jimmy’s homeless shelter, because I want to give a bit back for what they do for the community. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Jason says that “most young people all around the world” are aware of the Paper Clip Challenge and he notes that the majority of his swaps have therefore been with people aged 18-25. “I just approach people with the camera,” he explains, “and also they jump in front of the camera, and I say, ‘Hey, I’m doing a challenge where I trade whatever I have with something that’s more valuable than what I have’.

“And some people will obviously give me something and some people say, ‘No, I don’t have anything’. That’s literally what I do – I just walk around Cambridge with my camera. It’s quite a fun way to get people involved and to raise awareness for people in need.”

Jason, a qualified chef originally from South Africa, runs Shanty Cambridge – a business that caters for events and private parties – and also does food pop-ups in and around Cambridge. He is a keen content creator who shares his recipes and food experiences on social media.

Chef Donkey, aka Jason Howard of Shanty Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Donkey, aka Jason Howard of Shanty Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Everything he films on the streets of Cambridge this week will be posted on his Chef Donkey YouTube channel (find it at bit.ly/3SVRuBZ). The challenge – planned to be the first in a series – runs until tomorrow (Saturday, August 20) and on Sunday Jason hopes to visit Jimmy’s and cook for them.

“What I’m trying to do is give back to people who have done good for communities,” he says. Jason says he’s been loving the experience so far. “The first day I was really surprised how open people were,” he notes. “Some people literally stopped and emptied their pockets and they didn’t have anything to swap with me – but just the fact that they were interested was heartwarming.”

[Read more: British Restaurant Awards 2022: 10 restaurants in the Cambridge region shortlisted]

Presumably Jason gets rather puzzled looks from older people? “Yes, very confused looks!” he laughs. “You’re standing there with something and you’re saying to them, ‘Will you swap this for something?’ It is a bit bizarre, but if you know what it’s about then it obviously makes sense.”

Jason has lived in the UK for nearly 20 years and in Cambridge for eight years. He has nothing but good things to say about the city he calls home. “Love it – Cambridge is the best place in England and I’ve been all up north, down south, London. I’ve done it all.”

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