A Jamie Oliver scheme gives non-cooks the recipe for success
Until recently, Bob Rushton’s cooking skills extended to the bbq and not much else. His wife was worried that if anything happened to her, he wouldn’t be able to cope.
“I told her I had the bowls and league clubs close by so won’t go hungry,” Rushton says.
But she insisted and the 65-year-old from Greystanes signed up as a member of one of the inaugural students of the NSW Ministry of Food, the brainchild of food guru Jamie Oliver.
Thanks to a five week cooking course, part of Oliver’s mission to make healthy cooking accessible to all, Rushton has added green curry, salmon teriyaki and roast chicken to his repertoire.
“I’d never had to cook but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, the classes are simple to understand and great fun. My wife is also enjoying the results, I’m now cooking once or twice a week at home,” Rushton says.
The five week cooking courses take a practical, hands-on approach.
In week one students learn how to make eggs; boiled, scrambled, poached and an omelette, and finish up with a roast chook and all the trimmings.
Ministry of Food centre manager, Mark Hamilton, says there are 20 one-and-a-half hour classes a week with a maximum of 12 people per class.
“The course costs just $50, we can do it for so little because we are a charity. Woolworths and Huon Salmon supplies the ingredients, The Good Guys provide the ovens and fridges and the space is donated by Stocklands,” he says.
“There’s a team of four staff and about 40 volunteers.”
Ministry of Food, the brainchild of UK chef Jamie Oliver, has been running in Australia for six years, with centres in Queensland, Melbourne and South Australia. This is the first one in NSW.
“MOF was a WW2 wartime program to teach people how to use their rations sensibly. The government sent ladies into the community to tell people how to cook. Jamie has taken that idea and run with it,” Hamilton says.
“Courses are designed for people that don’t really have that much knowledge about cooking but even if you can cook, you will walk away with something that you wouldn’t have known.
“We give students kitchen tips, like peeling a clove of garlic by crushing it with a knife so the skin falls away easily and using the back of the knife to clear the chopping board so you don’t blunt the blade.”
The course is suitable for students aged 12 and up and Hamilton says he has two 13-year-olds that attend classes with their mother.
“We ignite people’s passion for cooking because they see how easy it is to do things,” Hamilton says.
“Salmon might sound scary, but students find it’s really easy. The classes are based on beef mince, chicken and fish, things that you can find in your supermarket. We have students that finish the lesson and go straight to the supermarket so they can cook the dish again at home that night.”
Although Janja Trkulja, 32, from Seaforth knew how to cook, she had never made a curry before so she’s added that to her range of dishes while Josephine Le, 28, and husband John, 29, from Mount Pritchard learnt how to make a roast.
Vasilije Kokotovich, 61, from Abbotsbury was signed up to the course by his daughter.
“She said I like to eat so I should know how to cook, that way I can help her mum,” he says.
“We’d always watch Jamie Oliver together and he makes cooking look so easy and fun. They teach you lots of tricks and there’s enough structure without stricture. We did meatballs but then learnt how you can turn them into hamburgers so there’s freedom to be creative in what we know.”
During the roast chicken lesson, trainer Renee Borg also taught students how to make gravy from the carcass and shared her tip to freeze it in ice cube trays, so that you could pop them out as needed. Also part of the lesson was making gravy from scratch using the juices from the pan and how to carve a chicken.
Borg is a “cook by passion” and her enthusiasm is contagious.
“What gets me is when I see people who’ve never boiled an egg before and then their sense of achievement at having a finished dish. The excitement on their faces when they make something makes me so happy,” she says.
“Participants will bring in photos of their kids cooking with them and the joy on their faces is palpable. We want to educate people to start cooking from scratch again, to go home and feel confident about what they have cooked and share it with their families.”
Ministry of Food
Stockland Wetherill Park
Kinchin Lane, 561-583 Polding St
Ph: 9756 1001
Five week course $50
This story was first published in The Daily Telegraph’s Best Weekend magazine on February 28, 2015