World-renowned chef and TV presenter Jamie Oliver has always campaigned for healthy food — be it in his own kitchen, in schools, or on his popular television shows. But it was his 2010 show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which got him to think seriously about improving child nutrition. “The show was centered on reforming school lunches in USA. This education program was targeted at not only children but also their parents and, especially, school authorities who controlled the food,” says Oliver, in an email interaction.
Six years since the show, Food Revolution has turned into a movement with its reach in countries like Australia, Germany, Brazil, Kenya, Canada, and Nigeria, among others. The campaign was launched in India last week with a live streaming on Oliver’s Facebook page and a cookout by Chef Kunal Kapur and actor Jacqueline Fernandez at a city-based event. With this movement, Oliver wants to create awareness and generate dialogue about food and nutrition for children. His Instagram page is a testament to this mission. The chef regularly puts up photographs and recipes of healthy dishes to encourage more people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Oliver also took to Twitter to reach out to US President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and British Prime Minister James Cameron, among other world leaders. His message here is loud and clear: “India has the youngest population in the world, and that’s why it is necessary that this campaign continues to gather momentum here,” he says.
It really is tough to talk about the British chef without speaking about his various causes.
In the past, Oliver had also called for a ‘sugar tax’ to cut down consumption of sugary products like aerated drinks. “As I’ve said before, business cannot come before our kids, our kids’ health comes first. The government has to take initiatives to ensure that children are better aware of the harmful effects of sugar,” he says. Now, Oliver wants to go after giants like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola — who are sponsoring the Olympics — to ensure they meet certain nutritional and ethical standards before becoming the official food suppliers at the event.
The television chef
Seventeen years ago, Oliver began his journey in television with The Naked Chef, a BBC cookery show. It starred the young chef — often dressed in his home clothes with long, unkempt hair — lounging around in his kitchen, preparing dishes for friends and family. It was sort of revolutionary even for those times, when cooking shows were formal and more structured.
Two years after this stint, Oliver approached Channel 4 in the UK to help him with a documentary about setting up a restaurant. That’s how Jamie’s Kitchen was conceptualised. It was one of his most successful shows, which also led him to his restaurant Fifteen, in London. Then, he launched Jamie’s Italian, which has 40 branches across UAE, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, and one in India, in Delhi. Ask him when does he plan to open one in Mumbai, he says, “All I can say is ‘soon’.”
With the advent of YouTube, Oliver’s popularity saw a distinct spike. When YouTube was all about cat videos and flash mobs, Oliver created a space for chefs to showcase their talent. He launched FoodTube, where he would invite culinary experts and budding chefs, and collaborate with them to create interesting recipes. “It was a revelation to see how influential YouTube food personalities were, considering I come from TV. I have often found that technology has helped fuel my passion, creativity and innovation in cooking,” says the self-confessed geek. Today, he has over 2.3 million subscribers eager to watch him cook and talk all things food.
Like his restaurants, Oliver’s food philosophy, too, is ingrained in the Italian way of life. For his restaurant, Jamie’s Italian, the chef collaborated with his friend and long-time mentor Gennaro Contaldo (chef and restaurateur) to combine traditional and innovative ideas on the menu. “They [Italians] have managed to maintain a unique sense of traditional and village spirit, though they live life so luxuriously. Italians, whether rich or poor, have a passion for food and life itself,” he adds. That’s called living a truly content life, something that Oliver, too, stands by — both in his cooking and his passion for social causes.
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