Jamie Oliver headed back to Toronto to talk "fresh" food
Although he may be best known for his crusade to better school lunches, Jamie Oliver grew up in his parents' gastropub and is no stranger to the kind of comfort food classics that can warm your bones. His newest book, Jamie Oliver's Great Britain: 130 Of My Favorite British Recipes, From Comfort Food To New Classics brings him back to Toronto, and inspires his talk and Q&A at Massey Hall this Friday, October 19th. We had the chance to ask him a couple questions of our own - just to whet your appetites if you will.
What's the most challenging aspect of changing people's values towards food?
Getting people to try new things has been tough. Once you do though, most of them fall in love with fresh food. And once armed with just a few cooking skills, people really begin to enjoy food. The lack of food education in schools is so frustrating because with a little knowledge, comes big change.
How do you respond to cost concerns when advocating for healthy food?
I'm frustrated. First of all, healthy food is a bit of misunderstanding. I am talking about FRESH FOOD, not processed, not made with chemicals, grown or raised by someone who cares about what they are doing. I've done the math in your country and mine. If you are feeding one person, fast food is the cheaper option. It probably will ultimately kill you if you eat it every day, but it is a bit cheaper. But once you are serving more than one person, the economies work in your favor.
But the key is knowledge and cooking skills. If you don't know how to turn a big bag of lentils and rice into a delicious dish, then you don't have the cheap options. To this day, I've eaten the most delicious and lovely food in the poorest neighborhoods. The old ladies in Italy really know how to cook.
What can Toronto do better in terms of making fresh, healthy foods more accessible?
I'm not sure what specifically is holding Toronto back, but I can tell you that individuals can make better choices, and your mayor can take a look at what Mike Bloomberg is doing in New York City. The ban on super sized sodas may be controversial but it had to be done. If people aren't going to be sensible, then governments have to help them along. There's just too much at stake. More people are dying from obesity-related diseases than any other.
What food trends do you see happening in big cities (like ours) that you like?
I love that even the most humble of places are doing everything they can to serve the best possible ingredients to the public. There is so much love in food right now, that it's becoming hard to have a bad meal.
Toronto is about to embark on it's own revamp of school lunches, helmed by Susur Lee – what advice would you offer?
Stay strong brother. Roadblocks are going to be coming at you from all sides. Enlist the kids... they are going to be your best sales people. Think like the big food companies. You gotta make fresh food fun, and cool. Also, start with the primary schools if you can. The younger ones are really excited to try new things.
Where do you like to eat when you're in Toronto? What do you order?
I'm really lucky that I am usually in Toronto with my chef mate Derek, and he takes me to whatever place he Is excited about. We've been to the Black Hoof and Buca (I think that's the name) and had some really tasty food. The charcuterie were incredible.
Is there one food item that you would never eat?
I'm off genitalia. Whenever I travel the locals try to get me to eat their equivalent of Rocky Mountain Oysters, which, I was fed in Wyoming and Cod Sperm in Japan. That's enough.
I know Jamie's Italian has a few international locations, are there any aspirations to open a Toronto location?
We'll see. The people of Toronto are so supportive of me, and I'd love to have more time here. There are no plans as of now.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? Lemon zest
Best culinary tool? Speed peeler
A chef that inspires you? My mentor, Gennaro Contaldo...still after all these years.
What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? Beer? No, I guess you would expect that--but really cool local English brews I am getting excited about.
On current food trends:
Donuts? What's not to like? Can't have them every day though. They are a treat.
Poutine? Never tasted it.
Food trucks? Depends on the truck.
Photo by Studio Gabe in the blogTO Flickr pool