For many years Jamie Oliver has been on a crusade to fight obesity and bad eating habits, with the aim to equip people the world over with cooking skills and a greater appreciation of fresh food.
Sydneysiders have witnessed his mission through numerous television shows, campaigns and cookbooks. Now it's closer to home, with the announcement of the first Ministry of Food centre in NSW.
The British chef will open a cooking school in August to teach basic kitchen skills. It will be at the Stockland Shopping Centre at Wetherill Park in western Sydney, which is undergoing a $222 million redevelopment. It will be Oliver's fifth Ministry of Food kitchen in Australia.
“Obesity is not just a diet-related disease. It's the biggest killer in Australia and what the Ministry of Food is, it's a fix and response that really does transform people's confidence in the kitchens,” Oliver said.
The cooking classes, funded by the not-for-profit arm of electrical goods retailer The Good Guys, will focus on basic cooking skills, nutrition, budgeting, meal planning and shopping tips.
Oliver said recipes would be healthy and tasty and would include desserts.
“We all love ice-cream. Life is about ice-cream and sometimes people get confused with some of my messaging," he said.
"Of course we want to be as healthy as possible but we don't want to edit out things in life. Life is about having beautiful treats and cakes and things like that.”
He said the problems began when parents gave in to their child's requests for more soft drinks and desserts. “That's the sort of repetition that gets us into trouble. Absolutely I give my kids ice-cream but my wife is fairly strict about when and how much.”
This year, the Australian Diabetes Council revealed that a diabetes epidemic had gripped the western suburbs of Sydney, with Liverpool in the south labelled as the suburb with the highest number of people with the disease.
Of the 10 suburbs with the highest incidence of diabetes, seven were in Sydney's west, said head researcher, Alan Barclay. This includes Liverpool, Mount Druitt, Campbelltown, Westmead and Blacktown.
The high rates could be drastically reduced with a combination of improved primary healthcare and better knowledge of healthy cooking, he said in July.
“People need to know more about food and how to prepare it," Barclay said. "We have to start doing more in schools and in the local community.”
The co-host of Channel Nine's Today show, Lisa Wilkinson, will be the ambassador of the Ministry of Food centre.