TORONTO — Jamie Oliver finished shooting his latest reality TV show over the weekend in West Virginia, but the famously busy chef wasn’t about to take a day off.
Hours after the production wrapped, Oliver was in Toronto to give a sold-out talk at the city’s Roy Thomson Hall.
“I’m in a bizarrely spaced-out mood today,” he said backstage before his appearance in front of an audience of about 2,300.
“I just feel like I’ve had quite a lot of stress removed from my shoulders.”
For the last few months, Oliver has been in Huntington, W. Va., on his latest culinary crusade.
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution features the rumpled British cooking guru trying to reform eating habits in the city of about 50,000, which has been dubbed the fattest in America.
Produced by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, it’s expected to air on ABC next year.
The premise is similar to last year’s Jamie’s Ministry of Food, which saw Oliver descend on the community of Rotherham, South Yorkshire in a bid to wean residents off of fatty takeout and teach them to make home-cooked meals using fresh ingredients.
His strategy was to give cooking lessons and encourage residents to “pass on” what they’d learned.
Oliver, of course, is no stranger to promoting healthy cuisine. His 2005 series Jamie’s School Dinners galvanized Britain as he pushed to banish French fries and fish sticks from cafeterias in favour of healthy fare.
The subjects of his latest project, he said, weren’t initially all that welcoming.
“Huntington was very wary of me being there in the start, because they thought I was there just to kind of poke fingers at a load of fat people,” he said.
“As a person, as a father, (that’s obviously) not my main goal in life. Why would I want to fly half way around the world to cause aggravation? . . . Life’s all about earning trust, isn’t it?”
His stint in West Virginia concluded Saturday with a block party featuring a concert by Rascal Flatts. Oliver, 34, says he’s taken residents as far as he can.
“We did as much as we could to the point where you have to hand it over to the locals. And I’ve been working fairly tirelessly trying to find local ambassadors of change and getting them to run with it.
“I’m not Clark Kent. I do what I do and I try to do it my best. . . . We’ve got to the point now where Huntington’s got to fight its own fight.”
As for his Toronto appearance, officials at Roy Thomson Hall said they couldn’t remember ever hosting a chef for a speaking engagement.
For about 90 minutes, Oliver — dressed casually in jeans, sneakers and a leather jacket — told stories and took questions from an enthusiastic audience.
Topics ranged from his love of chili to his naked cooking mishaps and his disgust at the contents of some school lunches (he says he’s seen four-year-olds bring Red Bull to accompany their midday meal).