Jamie Oliver – the real thing

I once sat in a room with Jamie Oliver for two and a half hours as he gave five interviews on the trot to the Scottish media. Whether explaining his passion for organic food to a reporter, or pacing the small room in-between bouts, Jamie seemed comfortably himself.

It was 2004, and Jamie hinted his next step was to do something with school meals. I escorted him through the university building where the Soil Association was holding its annual conference (stop press: our next conference is in Bristol this coming November). As he passed the book stall, Jamie bought twenty pounds worth of books on organic farming. We shook hands and I have to report – this guy is for real. He exudes natural warmth and spontaneity.

Now he is on television teaching Rotherham how to cook. And I love him.

The TV show tonight could not have packed-in more touching scenes. Julie used to live on crisps and chocolate – now she cooks healthy fresh dinners. The miner who found food teaches fellow miners how to stir-fry. Stereotypes fall away. So-called feckless single mothers and ‘real’ men, the stuff of tabloid headlines, absorb Jamie’s lessons – eager to learn, brimming with untapped talents.

Jamie takes his inspiration from the wartime Ministry of Food – Marguerite Patten reminds Jamie “the Ministry never lectured…cooking has to be pleasurable.” Wise advice but pity we have to wait for a disaster to get people changing their behaviour.

Such as the obesity crisis that Jamie graphically illustrates when he drops by the hospital to see Julie’s scan (and the baby she might call after him). There is a hoist and equipment that costs £60,000 to help care for extremely obese people. Clinically-fat people who do not need to suffer if – as the NHS medics insist – they had learnt to cook from scratch from the start.

Jamie gets a thousand people together in one go for a mass cook-in. He is working on the theory of passing it on. If I learn a recipe and pass it on to five people then – do the maths. I marvel at the cheffy dishes he chooses for people who have never cooked before: flattening chicken breasts pressed with parma ham.  His chief ingredients are chilli, ginger and garlic to get everything tasty – top tips to pass on.

His Rotherham experiment is part of revolution, with cooks as guerilla fighters in the war against junk food.

[I changed 'part of' from 'beginning of' following Sarah Beattie's comment because she's right: there's unseen work going on, which is precariously-funded.]

My recipe: I put flat mushrooms with slivered garlic under a grill, brushed them with olive oil top and bottom so they would not burn. When they had softened, I added a slice or two of camembert cheese that took five minutes to melt. I piled the mushrooms on wholemeal toast and served them with grated carrots and mustard leaves snipped from my potted salad plants.

I hope Jamie would be proud of me.

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7 responses to “Jamie Oliver – the real thing

  1. I too salute Jamie – but not only him. There are lots of people slogging away. I was doing a similar project in North Yorkshire for several years. We made real progress not only teaching people to cook but teaching them to enjoy cooking. This is the real secret – make cooking the creative, pleasurable focus it can be and when it is no longer drudgery and a chore more people will do it. Cooking is a performance art even if the audience is one. Sadly one of the very young mums I taught who had made a fabulous soup and a wonderful bread, had her excitement punctured by the boyfriend who said, “I’m not eating anything you’ve f***in’ made”. We have still a long way to go and funding for this very successful project was simply pulled without warning.

  2. I should not make any comments since I didn’t watch the orogramme on TV last night, but judging by your describtion, it sounds great! Well done, both of you.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Hats off and full respect to the way Jamie is using his position within the media to make a difference and really do some good. It’s all to easy for people to be cynical and critise when people like this stick their head above the parapet but I only wish more people in the public eye would use their influence with the media in this way. Well done Jamie!

  4. Great stories on this blog, thanks a lot for the inspiration… As an organizer of BLOG08; I am really looking forward to welcome you October the 24th.

    By the way, will you be in Amsterdam around October 23th?

  5. I think Jamie would be proud of you. I am proud of you too. This is a very inspiring post. I think you also exude natural warmth and spontaneity.

  6. I also thought the ‘Pass it on’ idea was great. During the series Jamie sometimes said he felt it wasn’t really making a difference because only a few people were passing it on. But now that millions of people have watched the programme I think it will make a huge difference.
    It has made us see that if we can cook we should pass it on to friends that can’t, not just feel supirior because we can throw a dinner party and they eat out of foil trays. Everyone should be able to cook at a basic lesson. Not everyone will love cooking but they will enjoy eating home cooked food.
    We should all pass it on and all of our food blogs are a great way of doing it I suppose.
    PS I also think Jamie Oliver is still looking gorgeous and I would marry him in an instant if Jools ever left him.

  7. Pingback: TED winner Jamie: good food in 15 minutes? « Real Food Lover

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