Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is in town and he’s stirring up more than just batter. The British-born star of Food Network’s “The Naked Chef” took the podium in a downtown Sacramento parking lot Tuesday to introduce the Big Rig Teaching Kitchen, his traveling food classroom.
The teaching kitchen is part of the Jamie Oliver Foundation’s larger Food Revolution campaign, which aims to promote culinary education globally and take processed foods out of cafeterias. In September, the Big Rig teamed up with the California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation, to launch a 40-week teaching tour from San Diego to Sacramento. The 53-foot long bus is equipped with enough state-of-the-art kitchen equipment for about 16 people, said Food Revolution Operations Manager Scott Bottemer. It will be parked outside Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park from Jan. 21 to Feb. 7.
The launch featured speeches from Mayor Kevin Johnson, California Endowment President Robert Ross, state Assemblymen Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan, both Sacramento Democrats, and city school board member Patrick Kennedy. Following the conference, Oliver invited attendees aboard the rig and gave a cooking demonstration, during which he prepared pancakes and fruit salad alongside Nicolas Come, the 9-year old who founded Nicolas’ Garden, an app to promote healthy eating.
“You’ve got to get people cooking, regardless of what they can get ahold of,” Oliver said. “This bus will go around and we’ll do very basic stuff. We’re making soup, we’re making pancakes. … The most beautiful foods I’ve ever eaten come from poor districts and poor communities, but they have the knowledge to do it. When you have poverty and no knowledge, that’s when you have the sort of diseases that we spend the day talking about.”
Free cooking classes taught by Oliver-trained chefs will be open to the public beginning Jan. 23. Community groups such as the Girl Scouts, the Native American Health Center and the California Food Literacy Center have already signed up for classes, said Bottemer. The ingredients for the bus will be supplied largely by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.
Amber Stott, founding executive director of the literacy center, said she is excited about the attention that Oliver’s presence will bring to important issues like clean drinking water and the lack of teaching kitchens for California students.
“When someone like Jamie can use his celebrity to draw attention to the issues, it’s very beneficial for us,” Stott said. “A lot of politicians are going to perk up a little and throw their weight behind something when a celebrity is interested. What he’s doing as a spokesperson and on a program level is very important for moving the dial forward.”
Find the schedule of Big Rig cooking classes and instructions on how to sign up at Jamiesfoodrevolution.com/bigrig.