Patt Morrison Asks

Jamie Oliver: Food fighter

What else are you doing in L.A.?

We're opening five kitchens with the American Heart Assn., providing free cooking lessons in [poor] areas. We've got a massive truck that's going to be going around L.A. for a whole year, [to] different schools, thanks to TED [the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference]. The Food Revolution, as a campaign, not the TV show, is really trying to bring together everyone's efforts.

I'm [also] working with an old place called Patra's. [The owner's] dad set it up in the '70s; it's beautifully retro inside, and he let me have half the menu board and I'm trying to prove that fast food can be affordable, profitable, nutritious and better for you. It's really about owning what goes into the burger and the burrito and the milkshakes. Hopefully my side of the menu will be a success. I'm trying to get it all under 500 calories, and every burger goes with a salad, so it's a complete meal.

I must ask: You killed a live lamb on TV. I was horrified, but at least you faced up to the reality of what it takes to eat meat -- killing a living being.

I couldn't really say no. I've probably ordered about 10,000 in my career. When you're there in the village, and it's their normal tradition, I actually felt quite shallow if I didn't do it. Did I like it? No, it was bloody horrible. Will I do it again? Probably not. But if everyone in the world had to do that, maybe there'd be more vegetarians, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But I think it would make everyone respect [what they eat]. To be a meat eater -- I feel so strongly [about] having respect for it. It was a really quite emotional moment for me.

Do you have any favorite L.A. food?

L.A. is a city full of little diamonds. About a year and a half ago, I did a documentary on beautiful food in L.A., which ironically never came to America; it went to 180 countries in the world and it didn't come here! But that time I spent here, I was blessed to be welcomed into the Homeboy Industries family. We're buying our whole-wheat buns [for Patra's] from Homeboy. The salads at the Homegirl Cafe are just outrageous.

Sunday's my day off, and I've done different farmers markets. I've had some wonderful bread, and I just love the different ethnic sort of stalls. Asian stalls, they've got all the different cabbage and bok choy and herbs so beautifully wrapped. The Mexican stands. The celebration of ethnic food in general, the different lemons, ones that aren't sour, a woman who does a million different herbs -- wow.

What do people say to you in the markets?

It's a bit like preaching to the converted. [After] getting locked out [at the LAUSD], I would go down to a farmers market on Sunday and everyone just patted you on the back and said, "Don't you dare give up," and they really meant it. Not that I'm one for giving up, but when you get your ass kicked quite a lot, you think, maybe I'm not the right one to be stirring the pot. And then that gets said to you.

Certain people start saying, "Bloody chefs, they're trying to do all this posh cooking." It's not just me teaching people to make gourmet meals. I'm not bloody stupid. We're trying to keep things relevant, and we're trying to save them cash.

If you say, can I teach you how to save money for the rest of your life? They say, of course, yeah, and taking people shopping is one of the most incredibly [informative] opportunities. You show them how to buy local stuff or how they can cook fresh, instead of reheating something that [seems] dead in a tray.

You cook for your family when you get home. Aren't you tired of cooking and kitchens by then?

No, I've never really been like that. I kind of find it therapeutic, actually. Put on some music, have a little drink. It's very different to cooking in a school kitchen. It's like having a massage, really.

This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive:
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