Jamie Oliver kicks off the second season of his “Food Revolution” on Tuesday, showing viewers everywhere what Angelenos know first-hand: This city has a serious obesity problem.
But Oliver's healthful eating crusade was met with a cold shoulder at the start, something that will be documented as the show gets underway on ABC.
The ebullient Oliver doesn't give up, however. Although the end of the tale has yet to be determined -- he returns later in the month to finish shooting -- sources are already talking about the possibility of a peace treaty with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Although the second season is set in L.A., “The same challenges are everywhere,” the British chef said Thursday in a telephone news conference to promote the show.
Improving the quality of school food has been high on Oliver’s list of projects, but for months he has tussled with the LAUSD and was kept from filming and working in school cafeterias -– something that was a centerpiece of the first season of “Food Revolution,” which took place in Huntington, W.Va.
In a rough cut of the first episode, Oliver sets up a tense stalemate with the school board. In fact, the faces of the board members and outgoing Supt. Ramon Cortines could be put into the “if looks could kill” category when he comes to them asking for entrée to a school.
“I never really expected to be banned from every single school in the district," said Oliver, who added that he felt plenty of support from families in the city for his mission of healthful eating in school and at home.
Oliver said at the news conference that he hopes John Deasy, who takes over as superintendent April 15, “is going to have a different strategy, a strategy that’s more inclusive.”
“My goal is not to fight with the LAUSD,” Oliver said.
The LAUSD on Thursday repeated its longstanding position on Oliver and his request. “We have already extended an invitation to Mr. Oliver to help LAUSD (sans cameras) with its menu committee or design a yearlong menu that meets all the health and nutritional requirements set forth by the federal and state government," LAUSD spokesman Robert Alaniz said. He added: "The invitation still holds."
During the conference call, Oliver noted that it was Cortines who kept him from the cafeterias, though he managed to spend some time in West Adams Prep, a school west of downtown that runs under a contract with the district, before he was told to leave.
“If John Deasy wants to talk to me and wants to do what I know the public wants … if he’s really clever, you know, he’ll let us in for a filming and we can have a dialogue,” Oliver said.
And on another front, Oliver has talked with consultant Kate Adamick about looking at the LAUSD food services department budget to see whether she can find money to add to the 77 cents the district says it spends on food for each lunch.
Adamick, whose Cook for America organization trains cafeteria staff in healthful budget-conscious cooking, stressed that the district hasn’t asked for her input but expects she could find savings and revenue by studying how the district gets, prepares and serves food.
“Of course, I would be very happy to help L.A. do that if they want me there,” she said from New York.
And Oliver's show is not all about the schools. In the first episode, Oliver runs into some resistance trying to reform a fast-food menu.
He also has other pots on the stove in his revolution campaign. The Jamie Oliver Foundation is working with the California Endowment and the American Heart Assn. to bring healthful eating to some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
A huge mobile teaching kitchen -– funded through donations -- is parked for now in the California Endowment’s lot while staffers get ready to offer cooking classes in South L.A., starting perhaps in June, said Kathlyn Mead, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the endowment.
Her organization is funding classes for residents in an area “barraged by fast-food joints." And the Heart Assn. will help get gardens planted in those same neighborhoods, she said.
“As those gardens are harvested, Jamie Oliver’s truck will be there,” Mead said Thursday by telephone.
The Heart Assn. and Oliver’s foundation will seek funds to open five permanent community kitchens to offer classes in Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, Cleveland and Baltimore.
-- Mary MacVean
Photos: Jamie Oliver at work in L.A. Credit: Associated Press