People who know me in real-life might say I always have a LOT to say. So there are a very few occasions that have left me speechless – and actually thinking about it, I can only think of a handful. Like, you know, the time I met Jamie Oliver.
Jamie was in Toronto recently to launch the Sobeys Inc. Better Food Fund which is the next step in Sobeys’ better food journey that kicked off last fall with a partnership with Jamie himself. The Better Food Fund supports access to, and the advancement of, better food through donations and partnerships with national and regional charities. The Fund has three distinct areas of focus: food access through the support of food banks and breakfast programs; research on food-related health issues; and food literacy through nutrition education and cooking skills programs in schools and communities. To launch the Fund, Sobeys and Free the Children have partnered to co-develop Home Cook Heroes, an empowering program that provides students aged 12 to 17 with nutritional literacy, food awareness and basic cooking skills. Cooking skills are life skills and they teach people how to be self-reliant, independent and instill a natural sense of wellbeing. Combined with nutritional literacy, cooking skills empower people to take control of their health.
Naturally I am thrilled about this partnership, as, in my work as a Food Revolution Ambassador for Toronto, I try to show people the importance of cooking real food and teaching kids to cook real food. If only this was a mandatory part of the curriculum…. But this initiative is definitely a step in the right direction. As Jamie says, “Knowing how to cook fresh food from scratch is an essential life skill – once you know that, you’re set up for life,”
Jamie was also in town to host a cooking class for some winners of a Sobeys #BetterFoodForAll contest – to enter you had to tweet/ Instagram a photo of a “better food side dish” or a “better food lunchbox” (which I did, many times – alas, winners were chosen randomly and my name was not one of them!). Thanks to the kind folks at High Road (who I have worked with on a number of campaigns and who do much of the PR work for Sobeys/ Food Revolution Day) though, I was invited to go and watch the winners learn from Jamie (and maybe even steal a minute or so of Jamie’s time for an autograph!).
The 90 minutes went by in a flash. Jamie demo-ed his recipe – Irresistible Pork Buns – and then the contest winners got cooking. During the demo part of the event, what struck me is just how real Jamie is. He’s exactly like you hope he would be. Funny, charming, and a whiz in the kitchen. He made those pork buns look like a breeze to whip up (all while enjoying a nice glass of wine!). He looks like he is genuinely having fun in the kitchen. And he makes you excited to cook too.
I think at the heart of what Jamie is doing, these three things are key – keeping it real in the kitchen (by cooking and eating real food and also by realising that not everything will turn out perfectly – that’s real life!), making sure you have fun and getting excited about food. It’s what I try to do every Monday and Wednesday after school with my boys’ cooking clubs, Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. And I know I’m getting there. Because regularly I hear stories from the boys about what they cook at home, emails from the parents telling me how their sons have inspired them to get in the kitchen and have a go too, photos of what they have made etc… And then last weekend in the middle of our Thanksgiving dinner, I received a lovely photo of one of the boy’s pumpkin pies with this note from him mum:
Before we met you, we would have bought a pie. Those days are long gone.
This. This is what makes it all worthwhile.
So you’d think I would have a lot to say to Jamie. I’ve been cooking with my students from Jamie’s recipes for nearly five years now, I have heard him speak each time he comes to Toronto (in fact, one of those talks was the inspiration behind my original boys’ cooking club, Les Petits Chefs) and so I figured I had so many things to tell him. So many stories to recount. So much to tell him about the boys’ favourite recipes of his. Oh and and how I signed up to be a Food Revolution Ambassador at the very beginning when there was barely a program to speak of. Oh and yes, how I now write for JamieOliver.Com. You know, I had a ton of things I could have talked about.
In the end, as I shook his hand, my mind went blank for about 15 seconds. The longest 15 seconds of my life. Yes, Mardi Michels was actually speechless. And finally I came out with “I’m a Food Revolution Ambassador from way back at the beginning.” I told him about how his talk in 2009 inspired me to start my boys’ cooking club and become a Food Revolution Ambassador. And basically I thanked him. Because the work I do with the boys each week feels to me like the most important thing I do and I don’t know if I’d be doing this without someone like Jamie around – tirelessly promoting food education. And Jamie, for his part, he listened, actually listened even though there was a giant queue of people who wanted to talk to him and a plane to catch. And he thanked me. Jamie Oliver thanked me. Because even though sometimes it feels like a drop in the ocean, my work with the boys is important too. And Jamie seems genuinely grateful. He seems kind of in awe at the reach of the Ambassadors (over 1300 of us now across the globe) and so very proud of all the work we are doing.
This. This is what makes it all worthwhile.
(and yes, for those of you wondering, I told as many people in Jamie’s entourage as I could that there’s a certain science lab that doubles as a kitchen where boys gather twice a week to cook amazing food using basic equipment on crappy hotplates. I think Jamie would have a lot of fun cooking in there, don’t you? Next time….)
Jamie was also kinda sorta in town to promote his latest book Jamie’s Comfort Food – which, according to Jamie contains his “most scrumptious, gratifying, new and exciting recipes in the wonderful world that is comfort food.” It’s a book full of “simple delightful, guilty pleasures we all love” celebrating “nostalgic memories, traditions and childhood favourites […] good mood food that will put a massive smile on your face.”
Food like the Insanity Burger:
The Petits Chefs made this a couple of weeks ago and one of them made these for their family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Rock on!
And Hummingbird Cake:
The Petits Chefs made cupcakes but I made the full cake for our Thanksgiving dinner. Oh my. So good.
This is most definitely not food for every day – Jamie calls it “food I cook and eat when I want to celebrate, when I’m excited, when I need a little pick me up or I feel under the weather or, frankly, when I want to be a bit naughty and indulgent.” Yay for all things in moderation (and in fact, read about the place of Comfort Food in a healthy diet over on Jamie Oliver.Com).
There are a lot of my favourite comfort food classics in there – Shepherd’s Pie, Beans on Toast, Sausage Rolls, Meatballs, Fish and Chips, Chips, Burgers, Bacon Sandwich, Quesadillas, Ramen, Huevos Rancheros, Pierogis, Pho, Chicken Soup, Pasta, Osso Bucco, Toasted Cheese Sandwich, Pizza, Mac n Cheese, Garlic Bread, Chicken Pie, Eggs Benedict, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Profiteroles, Apple Pie, Bread Pudding, Molten Chocolate Cake… (you get the idea…).
In short it’s a fab book for the coming cooler weather and I can’t wait to get (more) stuck in!
Giveaway: Two copies of Jamie’s Comfort Food (worldwide!)
That’s right, thanks to Harper Collins Canada, I have two copies of Jamie’s Comfort Food to give away – one to a Canadian address and one to a reader anywhere in the world!
To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me what you’d say if you met Jamie Oliver!
For a bonus entry, tweet the following message: Win a copy of Jamie Oliver’s #ComfortFood from @HarperCollinsCa + @eatlivtravwrite ! Details: http://bit.ly/1w893y8
then come back to leave me a comment on this post telling me you did.
Eligibility and contest rules
- Open to to readers anywhere. One winner will be chosen from Canada and one from anywhere in the world.
- No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
- Winner will be chosen using Random.org from all qualified entries on Wednesday October 22nd 2014 after 6pm EST.
- Winner will be contacted via email on Thursday October 23rd 2014.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Sobeys/ High Road at the Jamie Oliver event. I bought my own copy of Comfort Food, however Harper Collins Canada is providing two copies for giveaway purposes and shipping to one Canadian address. I was not asked to, nor further compensated for writing this post. I just really believe in what Jamie does.
Congrats to Della who won my Seven Letters from Paris giveaway. Check your email!