No offence to any rock stars or astrophysicists who may be reading this, but Jamie Oliver has got to be the coolest dad on the planet. I mean, come on. The 36-year-old Brit owns three drooled-after restaurants. He’s sold enough of his 14 cookbooks to qualify as the second-most successful author in England (J. K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is number one). Plus, he kind of started a revolution — his mission to make kids’ school lunches healthier started in the UK, and is spreading, one school at a time, through french-fry-laden towns in the United States.
His personal life looks equally brilliant. He rides around on motorcycles and plays drums in Scarlet Division, the band he co-founded when he was 14. He’s married to a gorgeous former model, Jools, and they have four children together: 10-year-old Poppy; nine-year-old Daisy; Petal, who’ll be three in April; and their 1½-year-old brother, Buddy Bear.
Now Oliver has put out a line of pastas, seasonings and jarred sauces that manage to align with his rather particular ideas about cooking, celebrating good quality and natural ingredients.
In spite of all we know of his public works, Today’s Parent really, really wanted to get inside the eating habits of the Oliver household. So we asked — and here’s what he told us.
Q: Parents are drawn to your food philosophy because they want to feed their families fresh, natural, home-cooked food. But our lives are so busy that many people feel it’s difficult to cook “from scratch” every night.
A: It’s really not that challenging — if you have basic knowledge and skills on how to treat fresh produce, you’ll find you can pull meals together very quickly. I’m not suggesting people make their own pasta from scratch every day, but at least use fresh ingredients so that you know you’re in control of the nutrients that your kids are eating while they’re at home. Another great thing to do, once the kids are old enough, is to get them involved and helping you with some of the simpler stuff like mixing and tearing up herbs. It gives them a sense of ownership and will get them into understanding about food and learning key life skills at a young age, which is so important.
Q: Almost everyone has a go-to meal — something they can cook quickly and feel good about on a busy weeknight. What’s yours?
A: It’s different depending on the time of year, what’s growing in the garden and what’s knocking about in the fridge, but you’re pretty certain to see chilies or lemon in there.
Q: How did you and Jools handle the transition to solid food with your children?
A: Jools used to purée up various foods but, as soon as they were able to, the kids would eat small portions of what the rest of us were eating, with a bit less seasoning.
Q: Do your kids like to help you in the kitchen?
A: Poppy and Daisy do. The other two are still a bit small. Daisy is really into cooking at the moment and she’s keen to learn. They started off, as I say, just tearing herbs and mixing batter, and things like that, but these days they’re into chopping — supervised, of course — and a little bit of baking. Poppy’s getting good at making bread.
Q: If you could get parents to make just one positive change to their family’s food habits, what would it be?
A: Eating more fruit and veg, and in many different colours. So often I’ve been into family homes and all the food is brown or grey, which is so shocking when there is an abundance of beautiful, tasty, nutritious and fresh produce out there.
Q: What would you say is the worst habit of parents when it comes to preparing family meals?
A: It’s hard to say, but I do think parents and kids should try to eat together, certainly at weekends and whenever possible. Kids learn from their parents and if they see mom and dad enjoying a good variety of fresh food, they’re much more likely to have a good relationship with food during their own lives.
Q: Let’s talk about your line of prepared foods, which is new to Canada. How did you manage to create packaged foods that align with your food philosophy — that parents can really feel good about serving their families?
A: All of my food ranges have got the same foundation, which is to use the best ingredients with a bit of convenience thrown in. I’m not so naive that I think everyone knows how to make the perfect tomato sauce from scratch — obviously, it would be great if everyone did. But until that day comes, the best alternative is a jar of quality sauce, and you know when you buy my range that I’ve created the recipe myself, sourced the best stuff and tested it until I’m happy enough to put my name on it.
Q: The lasagna noodles in your food line are made by a small, Italian, family-run company, using free-range eggs. Why is that important to you?
A: I did a TV program a few years ago about the chicken and egg industry and the horrors of battery farming and, overnight, the shopping habits of the British public just transformed. I think there’s huge support for animal welfare, so it’s natural for me to be at the forefront of that by only allowing higher-welfare ingredients into my food — and that’s true for my restaurants as well as the food on the shelves.
Q: Has your family tried the line? What’s their favourite item?
A: They have and they’re big fans of the pasta and the olive oil.
Q: Being married to a chef (and an internationally celebrated one at that), does Jools ever have reservations about cooking at home?
A: Not at all. She’s a terrific cook now. She didn’t used to be, but she’s really become fantastic over the last few years. She does all the cooking during the week and then I take over from Friday evening [through] so that she can have a bit of a well-deserved break.
Q: What would you say to people who think their spouse is a better cook, to boost their confidence in the kitchen?
A: I’d just stick to the things you know you can cook well and then once your confidence is given a bit of a nudge, maybe branch out a bit — not too far, you know, don’t suddenly go from jacket potatoes to soufflés, keep it simple and don’t worry if you have a few minor disasters — we all have them.
Check out one of Jamie's delicious (and healthy!) recipes in the March 2012 issue of Today's Parent magazine, on newsstands February 20th.
Try his food: The Jamie Oliver line of pasta, sauces and seasonings starts at $3. Find a store near you at shalitfoods.com
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