Most everyone has heard of Jamie Oliver—either through one of his cooking shows, his many appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, his TV series Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, one of his many books, or through any of multiple other sources. But it’s one thing to follow such a person from afar—and quite another to be able to communicate directly with him. Even knowing who he is and having seen him as others have, I was quite startled by the sheer optimism, directness and enthusiasm of this chef, entrepreneur, author, food advocate, and all-around casual genius.

I’m sure his humble beginnings had no small influence on his down-to-earth, street-level approach. “I grew up in my parents’ pub and I’ve been cooking since I was seven years old,” Jamie told Organic Connections. “Cooking was the one thing I did really well. I was terrible in school, so I just kept cooking.”

From the Essex pub in which he first worked (still run by his parents, Trevor and Sally), Jamie went on to graduate Westminster Catering College, not long after which he took a job at London’s famed River Café. He was there for three and a half years, working with two of his biggest influences, renowned chefs (and owners of the River Café) Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. “The women really influenced me,” Jamie said: “Ruth Rogers, Rose Gray, Elizabeth David and Alice Waters.”

It was while at the River Café that Jamie was discovered by a film crew doing a feature on the restaurant—and The Naked Chef was born. Jamie has never looked back.

Easy peasy

The thrust of The Naked Chef, and the many books and television programs that have followed, has been the instruction of others in the cooking of simple but delicious cuisine. Jamie has never believed it difficult—and he has spent a considerable portion of his time trying to convince everyone else of that. “With just the littlest bit of instruction, anyone can learn to cook tasty, inexpensive and lovely food,” said Jamie. “The problem isn’t accessibility to food; it’s accessibility to food education. Our parents’ generation didn’t grow up learning how to cook, so they didn’t pass on the skills, and the schools have all but stopped teaching people about food and cooking. That’s why I’m trying so hard to get food education back into schools. Cooking is a necessary skill.”

When one hears the words “Jamie Oliver” and “schools” in the same sentence, one cannot help but think about his many endeavors in this arena. Probably the most public of Jamie’s activities has been his hard work in the transformation of food in schools. His initial foray into this arena was in 2005 in the UK, with the series Jamie’s School Dinners. The effect from the show was profound: substantial changes were made to the food being served throughout the UK schools.