Friday, 13 February 2009

"Mick the miner" as Jamie Oliver dubbed him on TV in last years Channel 4 programme, came to Trinity & All Saints College in Leeds last week to share the secrets that the celebrity chef had taught him with over 40 students.

The campaign which this demonstration was part of was called "pass it on" and was Jamie Olivers response to the increasing inability of the British population to cook even the most basic meals.

Instead there is a growing prevalence of mothers who through ignorance, or inability to cook, choose to feed their children a potentially lethal cocktail of take-away food every day.

One of the most enduring images of the campaign that shocked and shamed Britain in equal measure was a clearly distressed Jamie Oliver lost for words after witnessing Natasha, one of the mums featured in the programme feeding her child cheesy-chips and kebab meat, whilst confessing her child had never eaten a home cooked meal.

Jamie's response was to set up a modern day Ministry of Food in an echo of the government department set up in WWII. Back then the aim was to teach the British population how to cook healthy, and nutritious meals during the enforced period of rationing.

Natasha became one of the success stories of the programme, taking the help and patient guidance of Oliver, and learning how to cook for her child, eventually improving her own life and that of the local community by passing on her new skills as the initiative demanded.

Many people felt Olivers ambitious scheme was dead in the water in the early days, as the initial enthusiasms began to ebb away from the local South Yorkshire community. This was unsurprising under the barage of scepticism and scorn initially poured on the project by Julie Critchlow. Images on the news of Critchlow passing burgers to children through school railings, to help them avoid healthier school fayre were widely condemned by health campaigners and were a catalyst inspiring the campaign initially.

Perhaps the turning point in the process was the involvement of "Mick the Miner" real name: Mick Trueman. His enthusiasm for the project stood out the moment he got involved. Trueman, still a supervisor today at Maltby colliery showed his terrific leadership qualities to re-enthuse the other members of the group, and for the first time it seemed somebody finally understood clearly that Oliver was not teaching the participants to cook, but also to spread the word. A man who confessed he had never so much as boiled an egg in his life was making a real difference to the wider community with his new skills.

It was fitting then to see that the message is still spreading far and wide with the cookery demonstration Mick the Miner gave to the Leeds undergraduates. Students are a notoriously difficult audience to impress but you could sense the respect that was shown to the man, not just for what he was trying to do, but also for his humility and excitement as he professed his astonishment at being given an award for his outstanding contribution at the Ministry of Food christmas party.

You sense that Mick the Miner has all the rewards he needs however as his class were then turned loose in the Trinity food labs to re-create the meal he had demonstrated for them. The twinkle in his eye was tangible as all the students without exception, surprised themselves with the quality of their dishes .

Perhaps "Mick the Miner" was also thinking back to when he outcooked Jamie Oliver the first time he cooked the dish, back then he said "its unbelievable, me cooking it better than him."
There are probably thousands of Mick the Miners out there who have never cooked before but have the potential to be great cooks who can pass on their skills. If you want to get involved with the campaign why not get in touch with Jamie Oliver at:

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