Local chefs learn the fresh and healthy practices of Jamie Oliver

Kennedy Thomas, Reporter

Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation parked its Big Rig Teaching Kitchen on the Bakersfield College campus on Nov. 10 in order to groom a new batch of “Food Champions.”  The tour is set to visit several communities throughout California that have been identified by The California Endowment as being particularly unhealthy.

The first day of training for the Food Champions program was held on Nov. 14.  Tour Chef Matt Harrison, 26, who joined the Big Rig Teaching Kitchen tour this year, said that the program is designed to train local volunteers in proper preparation of recipes, and show communities that cooking their own food can be healthy, fun and inexpensive, which is integral to the philosophy of celebrity-chef Jamie Oliver.

“Jamie’s whole mission is to get people engaged, empowered, and to let them have fun in the kitchen, so we want to do that,” Harrison said.  “Our whole approach is letting people know that these recipes are simple, easy, and cost effective.  Anybody can make them at home.”

Bakersfield participants of the Food Champion program include several former BC students:  Verity Harrison; Nancy Garcia, who graduated with a certificate in Computer Science in 2002; Dan Gregor, a biology major who attended BC from 1970-72 and transferred to UC Berkeley; and Elizabeth Clements, who earned a degree in Culinary Arts.  Cherylanne Farley, a current culinary arts student at BC working on her degree in Food and Restaurant Management, is also participating in the program.

Harrison said that after the training period, the Food Champions will then spread their new knowledge throughout the community with the help of The California Endowment and its Building Healthy Communities Initiative, although he was unsure on the details of how and when that will occur.

The Teaching Kitchen will then open its doors from Dec. 3-21 to anyone age 7 or older who signs up on the foundation’s website for its Learning to Cook Classes.  Harrison said that there will be 20 classes held in the trailer during its stay at BC, of which 10 have already been filled with people planning to attend.  JOFF Operations Manager Scott Bottemer, 51, said that classes are free and students can choose classes tailored to their cooking interests.

Bottemer said that the initial Food Champions training period would not be the end of their stay in the Teaching Kitchen.

“Once the Food Champions go through their training… then they will come back to further their leadership skills,” he said.  “Matt will be able to reinforce the recipes and Jamie’s philosophy.”

Bottemer said that the foundation does not condone or condemn certain types of food as a whole, as long as they are not heavily processed.

“Jamie’s philosophy is not about diet food, and it’s not about any specific types of food groups.  It’s all about balance,” he said.  “We live in a country, and quite frankly I think most of the industrialized world, [where] we eat way too many processed foods.

“We’ve gotten into a very bad habit of going to the fast-food restaurant, even to the grocery store, and just finding boxes and cans, and anything that’s in a box that you can just throw in an oven or throw in a microwave, and the whole concept of ‘scratch cooking,’ which is what Jamie kind of talks about all the time, doesn’t really exist too much anymore.”

The tour is not only about teaching recipes, Bottemer said, but also informing people about where to acquire ingredients within their community.

Harrison pointed out that there are 15 farmer’s markets in Bakersfield, and that part of their goal was to reveal the range of options available to people.  Bottemer said that they have done cost analysis on the difference from purchasing from local fresh suppliers versus fast food.  He said that the cost for purchasing fresh produce was approximately two thirds less in cost than fast food.

“Just buy what’s in your budget,” Harrison said.  “We will give [students] the addresses to the Mexican and the Latin markets.  They have great produce that we’ve gotten from them, and they’re like, super, super cheap.  Just step out of your comfort zone.”

“We’re just trying to educate people on not eating it every single day,” Bottemer added.  “If you want to go to McDonald’s, go to McDonald’s, but don’t go there every day.”