Jamie Oliver, MBE, is no ordinary celebrity chef.
For the last 13 years, he has devoted himself to promoting a healthy diet and redefining food in schools and thousands of households.
Since 2010, he has been leading more than 1,300 ambassadors around the world in the Food Revolution campaign to promote food education to the general public.
Oliver comes from Essex, England. His passion for food and cooking can be dated to when young Jamie helped out in the kitchen at his parents’ pub-restaurant.
Because of his dyslexia, he left school at the age of 16 to pursue his interest in the culinary arts at Westminster Catering College.
While everyone in his class hoped to become a protégé of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White or his rival Raymond Blanc, Jamie merely said, “I just want to make the best pasta in the world!”
Hearing his interesting “manifesto”, an Italian classmate gave Jamie the address of Neal Street Restaurant and asked him to look for Gennaro Contaldo.
Jamie did not have the faintest idea that he was going to meet his lifelong mentor.
Nothing starts easy. It took Jamie much time and effort to become the protégé of chef Contaldo, since he could only work as a pastry chef.
Nonetheless, the restaurant owner’s orders would not stop Jamie from reaching out to Gennaro.
After working from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, Jamie helped out until 3 a.m. in the kitchen so that Gennaro could grab some sleep. He often left funny or even naughty messages using breadcrumbs.
“The man’s on his own all night, and he’s probably really lonely,” Oliver explained.
Gennaro was impressed and decided to teach Jamie everything about pasta.
They have become best friends ever since and share their recipes generously with the world.
Oliver is good at using both the traditional and digital media.
In 2009, the mobile app Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals was launched, foreshadowing the success of his television cooking shows on Britain’s Channel 4: 30-Minute Meals, which debuted in 2010, and 15-Minute Meals, which began in 2012.
A million copies of the cookbook Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals were sold in Britain during its first Christmas.
Oliver has also captured the public’s attention with his documentaries about unwholesome food in schools, which resulted in action from the British government to tackle the problem.
In 2010, Oliver started to extend his influence across the Atlantic with a reality TV series — Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — on ABC.
The series achieved an average of over seven million weekly views and won the Emmy Award for outstanding reality program.
The series was renewed for a second season the following year.
This time, Oliver’s shows brought about the banning of flavoured milk and junk food in Los Angeles schools.
Fried food was made available only twice a week and soft drinks were no longer listed on students’ menus.
These are remarkable breakthroughs in a country where processed food and junk food are almost staples.
Appearing on numerous popular US talk shows and night shows, Oliver also won an award in the 2010 TED Prizes.
In his 20-minute award speech, he expressed his wish to teach every child about food and fight obesity through the Food Revolution campaign.
“For the last seven years, I’ve worked fairly tirelessly to save lives in my own way,” Oliver said.
“I’m not a doctor; I’m a chef. I don’t have expensive equipment or medicine. I use information, education.”
Oliver reckons that adults, especially parents, should take greater responsibility in first breaking the habit of consuming processed food and junk food, and then educating children properly about food.
“We, the adults of the last four generations, have blessed our children with the destiny of a shorter lifespan than their own parents,” he said.
“They will live a life 10 years shorter than ours because of the landscape of food that we’ve built around them.
“I wish to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”
Once an unconventional kitchen boy, Oliver is now leading people to live better and healthier lifestyles through a big list of projects and programs — the Fifteen Apprentice Program, the Ministry of Food program and the Kitchen Garden Project — run by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.
The latest annual event, Food Revolution Day, may be one of the most important projects Oliver has launched.
Food Revolution Day encourages people around the world to exchange and pass on knowledge about food and recipes.
Oliver believes that changes in lifestyles are made possible when enthusiastic people gather and work it out together.
This bottom-up revolution has gained growing support from the public.
The first Food Revolution Day was May 19, 2012, when 62 countries held more than 1,000 activities, such as cookery classes, food sharing sessions and banquets.
In the second year, 74 countries took part, with 1,200 events.
Last year’s Food Revolution Day was held on May 16. It attracted 121 countries and a total of 9,100 events took place.
That day, a Guinness World Record was set for the most participants in a cookery lesson in 24 hours.
This year, the fourth Food Revolution Day will be held on May 15.
Oliver has come up with another brilliant idea to promote better food and nutrition education — singing!
The song is co-written by Oliver with Ed Sheeran and will be performed by Paul McCartney (The Beatles), Chris Martin (Coldplay) and other singers.
This theme song will be released for free in early May.
Get ready to spread the message of Food Revolution Day!
This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s LifeStyle Journal on April 17.
Translation by Darlie Yiu