Jamie Oliver
Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver observe a cookery class being run by Head Chef-Teacher Esther Cook at King Middle School on Monday Jan. 6., 2014 Photo: Tracey Taylor

Jamie Oliver, aka the Naked Chef, who is probably best known in the U.S. for his Food Revolution TV series, visited the Edible Schoolyard at King School in Berkeley today. His host was Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters who spearheaded the creation of the internationally renowned edible program at the middle school, and founded the nonprofit Edible Schoolyard Project.

Oliver, British and originally a chef — whose empire now encompasses books, television shows, partnerships with major grocery chains, and restaurants — is also well known for his efforts to improve food education at schools. He has met Waters many times, but this was the first time he had visited the Edible Schoolyard which, he said, had inspired much of his work in schools.

“I have looked at Alice’s programs and figured out how they can translate to Britain,” he said today while observing students engaged in a cookery lesson in King’s spacious classroom kitchen. 

Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters discuss the latest research in edible education at schools before taking a tour of the Edible Schoolyard garden at King Middle School in Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Jamie Oliver Foundation’s Kitchen Garden Project currently has three flagship schools in Britain and has created a set of resources that enables all elementary schools to potentially bring food skills to life. Oliver was quick to point out the resources at the Berkeley school — the kitchen is large and beautifully decorated and the gardens produce an abundance of fruits and vegetables — were superior to those at most British schools

King Middle School students prepared Ghanaian black-eyed peas from scratch using a recipe by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson in a lesson prepared by Head Chef-Teacher Esther Cook. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Under the direction of Head Chef-Teacher Esther Cook, students, not many of whom seemed to know of Oliver, learned about the exchange of foods, animals, plants, and culture between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres after 1492, known as the Colombian Exchange, after Christopher Columbus. Another teacher, Julie Searle, was also part of the group.

Alice Waters records an edible education class being led by teacher Esther Cook in the King Middle School kitchen-classroom on Monday Jan. 6, 2014. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The class then set about preparing a dish of Ghanaian black-eyed pies following a recipe by another celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson. The preparation included chopping onions, ginger, cilantro and scallions and adding spiced butter and tomatoes to the peas.

Fresh ingredients being used for a black-eyed peas recipe included red onions, ginger, scallions and spiced butter. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Also in attendance today to meet Oliver and watch the class in action were King Principal Janet Levenson, the Edible Schoolyard Project’s Executive Director Katrina Heron, and Kyle Cornforth, Director of the Edible Schoolyard.

Heron said she hoped Oliver’s visit might prompt the beginning of a closer collaboration.

“Jamie Oliver is particularly skilled at teaching food services staff to engage with children,” she said. “Anyone who feeds a child in a school is an educator and we need to honor our food services staff.” Heron said her dream would be for Oliver to hold a masterclass for food service staff locally.

The Edible Schoolyard Project currently has at least one celebrity ambassador: actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Heron, who has been in her post for a year, said one of her missions is to build the ambassador program and “amplify its impact.”

After his Berkeley visit, Oliver was heading to Sacramento to join the Food Revolution Big Rig mobile teaching kitchen. The huge truck, underwritten by The California Endowment, is on a tour of the state offering food education courses led by community chefs.

Berkeley school edible programs face huge challenges (11.11.13)
Edible Schoolyard grad puts hemp burgers on the map (05.21.13)
Photo essay: Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Plant Sale (05.14.13)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...