You have been such a strong advocate of teaching ordinary people how to cook exceptional meals in their own home. If there were three things that are dead easy to learn, but would improve almost anybody's cooking, what would they be?
- Jim Smerdon, Vancouver
If you're starting totally from scratch and have never cooked before, I'd try one-cup pancakes first, because they're very easy and they give you such a sense of pride when you get something like that right for the first time. I'd also try mini-shell pasta with peas and bacon - the recipe is on my website and in the Food Revolution book, and then parmesan chicken with crispy posh ham. If you go onto YouTube and put in "Mick the miner," there's a clip of a 51-year-old bloke who's never cooked in his life doing parmesan chicken with crispy posh ham. If he can do it, anyone can do it. And that 51-year-old bloke cooked his family's Christmas dinner last year!
The Best of Jamie Oliver
What are your five essentials to have in the kitchen? And red or white wine for you?
- Ron Lee, Vancouver
Red wine, please. And do you mean equipment or food essentials? If you mean equipment, a speed peeler, a pestle and mortar, three decent knives, a good Tefal pan or two and a food processor. If you're talking food, extra virgin olive oil, chilies - fresh and dried - garlic, lemons, good-quality tinned tomatoes.
How do you balance the demand for healthier meals for British, and now American school children, with the cost considerations of poorer parents who may not be able to afford fresh, good-for-you foods and ingredients?
- Jane Auster, Toronto
Well, I always say that through history, the best food has always come from the poorest people, because they've had to use their imagination, knowledge and skill to create meals from very little. So 'good' food isn't about having money, it's about having knowledge. When I started school dinners in the U.K., we had a budget of about 66 cents [U.S., per head]to make delicious, nutritious food and we did it. But in the U.K., some councils are trying out offering school food free to poorer families and I'm all for that.
Given your experience with the English public-school system, what is the one most effective change that we should make here to encourage better nutrition for students in our schools?
- Joel Dick, Toronto
I think we need to remove the junk and take away the choice. In the U.K., I started by offering a more nutritious alternative alongside the chips and turkey twizzlers and guess what? The kids all chose the chips and twizzlers because it's what they were used to. Once we removed the choice, they started trying my food and they loved it and pretty soon, even the most hard core of chip 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.
I am a working mom with two boys in school (5 and 7), who has exhausted her lunch-box repertoire. Could you suggest some new lunch ideas that are healthy, easy and fit well in a kid's lunch box?
- Martine Carriere, Ottawa
I did a whole chapter on lunch boxes in the Jamie's Dinners book a few years back and there were all kinds of little tricks, like using different types of breads like pitas or wraps; freezing a carton of pure juice so it acts as a mini-refrigerator so you can put a yogurt in there. Without knowing what your boys love to eat, it's tricky to answer. Maybe go on the forums at jamieoliver.com, because the guys there always have bright ideas.
Why include meat in your food revolution? It's so easy to live without and so difficult to grow sustainably, handle safely and include in a healthy diet. You won't find a doctor, nutritionist or environmentalist out there who says the average Western person should eat more meat. So why not focus on the good stuff?
- Kathryn Bechdoldt, Hong Kong
You are absolutely right: It is easy to go without meat these days, and I'll be the first to say that there's plenty of really exciting vegetarian food out there. Whenever I write a book, I always include some vegetarian dishes. But what I'm trying to do with Food Revolution is get as many people as I can to start cooking proper food again.
The problems we have with bad health, obesity and diabetes in Western countries is mostly down to eating fast food, ready meals and overly processed ingredients. More often than not, the people who really need to learn about cooking from scratch aren't vegetarians. If anything, vegetarians tend to know how to cook vegetables properly and be creative in the kitchen. Leaving meat out of this book would have meant that a lot of the people I wanted to reach would never have given Food Revolution a chance. The important thing to me is that everyone gets involved - veggies and meat eaters.
Another big reason the book has meat in it is that I love meat and I tend to cook food I love to eat. I care about the way the animals I eat are treated and how they are slaughtered, and I believe that everyone should have the knowledge to make an informed choice where that's concerned. But to be honest, I probably don't have meat more than two or three times a week. That's just the way my diet goes.
Do you ever just say, 'Sod it! I'm eating fast food tonight'? If so, what's your haunt? Mine's KFC.
- Sean Rogers, Barrie, Ont.
Not really, no. Because I can usually make something tastier, quicker than the delivery man could bring me something.
Do you still like your mother's cooking?
- Bob Clark, Wellington, Ont.
Oh my God, I love it. Her roast chicken is still better than anyone's. I'm hoping she'll do Christmas this year and I can put my feet up.
Do you create all the recipes featured on your website and in your cookbooks yourself or do you have a group of people who collaborate with you?
- Melissa Balfour, New Westminster, B.C.
I do them. Then after I've come up with them, what happens is that my food team test them to make sure everything works and then we get someone from outside the food world to make them just to make sure that by the time a recipe gets into a book, it's been checked four or five times so that it's easy to follow and the ingredients are easy to find. I don't know any other chef that goes to those lengths but it's worth it.