British culinary king Jamie Oliver is one of the few television chefs I really enjoy. With his down-to-earth demeanor, the Naked Chef has set himself apart from many of the pompous personalities in the food world today. In addition to his comforting kitchen presence, Oliver has focused much of his work on building the food community around him, establishing a charitable culinary training program as well as aiding in the development of healthier school lunch programs within the public school system, both in the UK and the US.
With his ninth cookbook, Jamie’s Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals, Jamie Oliver offers hope and help for the masses on their own personal cooking endeavors, featuring tips and recipes for even the most novice cook.
Making A Difference with School Lunches
Q: You’re a fantastic advocate for healthier foods in school programs, both here in the US and in the UK. What are you most proud of in your educational food endeavors?
A: It’s a tough question, really. I am proud that we’ve made some incredible documentaries [Jamie’s School Lunch Project and Jamie’s Ministry of Food] that have gotten people to try and start cooking at home, but it’s a work in progress. There is so much more to do. I guess I would say I am most proud that we’re still out there trying to teach people to cook for themselves.
Q: While many schools complain about budget issues, what are some of the smaller changes schools can make in order to promote healthier eating?
A: I think we need to remove the junk and take away the choice. In the UK, I started by offering a more nutritious alternative alongside the chips and candy and guess what? The kids all chose the chips and candy because it’s what they were used to. Once we removed the choice, they started trying my food and they loved it. Pretty soon, even the most hard-core of chip (French fry) lovers were saying they didn’t want the chips back. Sometimes it takes time to get to that point, but if you want to make a real difference, the junk needs to go. When I started school dinners in the UK we had a budget of about 66 cents [per person] to make delicious, nutritious food and we did it.
Q: What advice can you give novice restaurateurs?
Get some work experience first. Too many people think owning and running a restaurant is glamorous. It’s hard work. I’ve been working in professional kitchens since I was 7 years old. I was podding peas and sweeping up in my dad’s pub to make pocket money.
Q: Who most inspires your cooking?
There isn’t really one person who inspires my cooking. I am lucky that I get to go to places for inspiration—Italy, America, the English countryside. Except for my mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, I’ve always been more inspired by the women cooks—Elizabeth David, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, Alice Waters.
Q: You’re wrapping up your latest show, “Jamie’s American Roadtrip”. What have you learned during your U.S. food travels?
A: I loved filming it, meeting people and seeing what great American food is out there. Arizona was really surprising and beautiful, and I fell in love with the cooking in East L.A. I’m hoping the show will air in the States next year.
Q: What are you hoping to accomplish with your latest cookbook, Jamie’s Food Revolution?
A: I wanted to show once and for all that learning how to cook as few as ten simple recipes for yourself can really change your life. The easiest change you can make in your life is to learn to cook. If you’re starting totally from scratch and have never cooked before, try one-cup pancakes first because they’re very easy and they give you a sense of pride when you get it right the first time. And then move on to the mini-shell pasta with peas and bacon from the book.
*Photo credit: Jamie Oliver/YC Media