'If you can't cook you'll prob­a­bly die younger'

Jamie Oliver is re­lent­less in his bid to rev­o­lu­tionise home cook­ing - but change must start with the re­struc­ture of ed­u­ca­tion, he tells Gemma Dunn.

Costa Blanca News (South Edition) - - Costa Living -

Jamie Oliver has made no se­cret of his de­sire to ed­u­cate the masses.

In the past two decades alone, the Es­sex boy-turned­po­lit­i­cal cru­sader - who shame­lessly has the same amount of hours in a day as us - has tack­led child­hood obe­sity, with the goal to shake up school din­ners; overhauled the na­tion's sugar in­take; rev­o­lu­tionised home cook­ing; and pro­vided a plat­form to train ap­pren­tice chefs from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds.

All the while build­ing his own em­pire - worth a ru­moured £300 mil­lion. Phew.

"If you an­a­lyse what I'm say­ing," he re­cently told The Guardian of his ideals. "There's noth­ing clever and there's noth­ing re­ally that con­tro­ver­sial; it's re­ally ba­sic com­mon sense."

The friendly TV chef and restau­ra­teur has the same dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion when we meet - an in­fec­tious en­ergy that sees him bound from one topic to the next.

"If I had a magic wand, if I could make one wish for the planet, I'd want ev­ery child, at 16, to be able to cook 10 recipes to save their life," be­gins Oliver, 43, barely paus­ing for breath be­tween sen­tences.

"I want to teach them the ba­sics of nu­tri­tion, and the ba­sics of shop­ping and bud­get­ing," he says sim­ply. "If you were to gift that to chil­dren, we would be in a much hap­pier, health­ier, more sus­tain­able place."

He halts, be­fore adding: "The struc­ture of ed­u­ca­tion in most coun­tries is sci­ence, maths, lan­guage and they think cook­ing is this f ****** pe­riph­ery. A ro­man­tic, mid­dle­class lux­ury: 'Oh isn't it cute?'

"But if you look at pub­lic health and death, if you can't cook, then your life has a cer­tain curve to it and you'll die at a cer­tain age," he goes on.

"Of course, some peo­ple don't, but if you take 10,000 peo­ple that can't cook, they're dy­ing shorter than the ones that can.

"Ob­vi­ously I'm bi­ased [but] I'm not dra­matic, be­cause I think child health and pub­lic health is so im­por­tant."

The lat­est tar­get of his epic anti-obe­sity drive is junk food ad­ver­tis­ing. A move­ment that's seen him call for the Govern­ment to im­pose a 9pm wa­ter­shed on junk food ad­verts.

"Kids are bom­barded, dayin, day-out, with ads for food and drink that are high in fat, sugar and salt. We've #AdE­nough," he tweeted back in April.

"In­ter­est­ingly, we have all the sci­ence and data from the clever­est peo­ple you can trust, that say junk food ad­ver­tis­ing needs to [hap­pen] af­ter nine o'clock at night," he rea­sons, res­o­lute in his mis­sion.

"But the heads of the ad­ver­tis­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and these chan­nels are say­ing ad­ver­tis­ing doesn't make kids eat more stuff !"

He has another strat­egy, how­ever: "One of our sug­ges­tions is that you shouldn't be able to use car­toons on ce­real [boxes] or food that is un­healthy. They should be used for good, not for bad," he ex­plains.

"And if you look at all the graph­ics, the an­i­ma­tions and the Dis­ney char­ac­ters, it's nearly all of it," he says, ex­as­per­ated. "Dis­ney's le­gacy should not be in get­ting kids 'iller', but get­ting them health­ier." Point made. But it's not all cam­paign trails and govern­ment-penned let­ters for the busy father of five (Oliver shares three daugh­ters and two sons with his wife of 18 years, Jools).

The much-loved star - whose fame ac­cel­er­ated af­ter his 1999 hit se­ries, The Naked Chef has writ­ten enough best­selling cook­books to fill a small li­brary. Not to men­tion fronted end­less small-screen tri­umphs.

His lat­est TV foray - Jamie Cooks Italy - is, in fact, the rea­son we're sat in his plush North Lon­don of­fice to­day.

Joined by his long-time friend and men­tor Gen­naro Con­taldo, Oliver will travel to eight dif­fer­ent re­gions - from Puglia in spring and the Ae­o­lian Is­lands in sum­mer, to Tus­cany in au­tumn and Rome in win­ter - to un­cover the wis­dom of the lo­cals, ex­pe­ri­ence sea­sonal foodie de­lights and learn the art of tra­di­tional Ital­ian home cook­ing.

Who will put them through their paces? The true masters of the Ital­ian kitchen, of course. The non­nas and the home cooks who have per­fected recipes that have been lov­ingly handed down over gen­er­a­tions.

"I love the Ital­ian ap­proach to life - it fills me with such joy!" quips Oliver, whose love for the cui­sine saw him open his first branch of restau­rant chain, Jamie's Ital­ian, in 2008.

"To be a for­eigner in Italy is a real gift; it's re­ally nice, it's very sim­ple.

"Ital­ians, gen­er­ally, are very won­der­ful peo­ple, and as long as you're po­lite and you smile, and they can tell that you love food - not be­cause you talk about it but be­cause they know you're a foodie - they'll con­stantly go 'Try, try'," he says, hold­ing his hands out an­i­mat­edly.

The eight-part se­ries also means qual­ity time spent with his 'best friend' Con­taldo, who he first met dur­ing his time as a pas­try chef at An­to­nio Car­luc­cio's Neal Street restau­rant in the Nineties.

"He's 69, I'm 43, I think we're both feel­ing a lit­tle bit frag­ile," Oliver con­fides. "Not be­cause we're vul­ner­a­ble, but we're just look­ing at the next 20 years, and his 20 years looks a bit dif­fer­ent to my 20 years," he elaborates.

"So we want time to­gether we're good to­gether. He looked af­ter me when I was a baby boy, he was my boss. And now I look af­ter him. It's a cy­cle."

On the recipe front? "I've got all oc­ca­sions cov­ered. Fast and slow op­tions, sim­ple dishes for you and a friend, fam­ily suppers, week­end treats and epic cel­e­bra­tory feasts," he prom­ises, with book Jamie Cooks Italy com­pli­ment­ing the se­ries.

"I'd love ev­ery­one to take a bit of the Ital­ian heart and soul of the non­nas' ap­proach into their cook­ing."

Jamie Cooks Italy starts on Chan­nel 4 on Mon­day, Au­gust 13.

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