Describing his latest mission to teach people to cook as The Empire Strikes Back to his School Dinners mission’s Star Wars, Oliver has set out his stall to teach the people of Britain to bin the junk. The first episode in the series saw him visiting the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, where over the past year he’s been teaching a class of people new recipes that they each must teach two other people who, in turn, take what they’ve learnt and “pass it on”.
Sounds simple? It wasn’t. Apart from having to contend with people’s deep-seated wariness of his southern ways, there was the small matter of their deep-seated ignorance of the cooking basics. We were introduced to Natasha, a pasty-faced young mum who had never fed her five-year-old home-cooked food, instead opting for “cheesy chips and a doner kebab served out of styrofoam”.
Another young mum, Clare, wasn’t sure how to boil water or handle raw meat. Oliver looked shocked. I wasn’t. My northern in-laws may be better cooks than this lot but are fans of the deep-fried sausage and wouldn’t be seen dead eating fancy southern stuff. (My father-in-law ate cheese sandwiches at our wedding.)
Of course, there were glimmers of light. It turned out that ‘burger mum’ Julie could whip up a mean roast dinner and Natasha showed real enthusiasm for the cause once she’d mastered pancakes. But the enormity of his task was rammed home when, looking distressed, Natasha lit up a fag and said she couldn’t afford to use what was left of her benefit to buy fresh mince. Not much you can say to that.
Oliver has a tough task. A chef taking on a bunch of non-chefs is one thing, but this is also about rich vs poor, modern vs traditional... and south vs north. All the ingredients for cracking TV, in short.