TV chef Oliver brings food campaign to Australia

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched his “Ministry of Food Australia” scheme on Monday, aiming to teach people “down under” how to cook and eat more healthily.

Jamie Oliver introduces P Diddy at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in London July 1, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Oliver won over critics and fans when he set out to improve British school lunches in a 2005 television series and then followed up with a healthy eating drive across Britain through his “Ministry of Food” campaign, which set up regional centers to teach people how to cook healthier food.

Earlier this year, Oliver announced he would take his Ministry idea to Australia, where a government survey found a majority of adults were overweight or obese.

The campaign will make its debut in the northeastern state of Queensland, where the government on Monday committed up to A$2.5 million ($2.54 million) over four years to support the program through a not-for-profit foundation set up by a local electronics retailer.

“Today will be a landmark day in the history of Australia’s fight against obesity,” Oliver said in a statement.

The Queensland program will start with a “Ministry of Food” cooking center a little west of the city of Brisbane as well as a truck offering classes, which travels around the tropical state that is home to the Great Barrier Reef.

“These cooking classes are fun, produce delicious food from fresh ingredients and really take the fear out of cooking,” Oliver said.

An Australian government survey conducted from 2007-2008 found that 61.4 percent of adult Australians were classified as either overweight or obese. The same was true of 25 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17.

Experts blame changes in family life, the rise of convenience foods and a lack of food education in schools.

“When you know how to cook, you’ve got control over your life and health,” Oliver said. “With the right sort of information and teaching, absolutely anybody can cook.”

Oliver rose to fame through “The Naked Chef” television series, a reference to the simplicity of his recipes, at the end of the 1990s. He has since published a number of cookbooks and appeared in several other television series.

Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Casciato