MIRA’S YOUNG CHEFS JAMIE OLIVER’S FOOD REVOLUTION AND HOW IT ALL COMBINES
Mira Jarrar is a Jordanian chef and healthy food advocate with a mission to spread awareness on healthy food and food education; Mira was given the title “Super Ambassador to Chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” for 8 years and she continues to teach children through employing modern educational techniques. Mira was influenced by Jaimie Oliver’s revolution which aims towards establishing a sustainable movement that teaches children and inspires families to bring back home cooking and fight obesity.
Through the effective program she supervises, she serves dishes with children and mixes cooking with entertainment, as she believes that “education can cause a greater impact when mixed with fun”.
In this interview, Mira told us enthusiastically how she turned a kitchen into a knowledge-packed classroom while putting her utmost effort to ingrain great habits and values through cooking.
By Hadeel Atalla
WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, WAS THE KITCHEN APRON YOUR FAVORITE?
I used to spend time in the kitchen since I was a little girl and I love to help my mother with making food. It is no secret that a great part of my love for cooking stems from my affection towards delicious food.
I really miss the home of my childhood and the smell of cardamom in the air, it was my mom’s favorite spice. I remember when I used to wake up early in the morning and get ready for a family feast; I just put a big smile on my face and say: “hurray, today’s food is plentiful and delicious!” Then I checked what my mother would cook for us and help her with food preparation.
At that time, my mother used to give my sister and I the role of garnishing the salad and setting the dining table. Then, I started tasting entrées to check if they missed anything. I have an accurate palate, and that makes my opinion with food matter all the time.
IT IS APPARENT THAT YOU GREW UP IN A FAMILY THAT CONSIDERS COOKING A MEANS TO ENHANCE CHILDREN’S SELF-CONFIDENCE. IS THAT RIGHT?
Absolutely! I owe to my dad the love I have for food and the kitchen; I remember when I made him sandwiches the way he liked then listened to him admiring what I made him. The way my dad treated me lifted-up my moral and made me feel confident and satisfied.
My parents have also applied the same thing with my kids through encouraging them to participate in activities and games related to healthy foods and eating vegetables.
One of the moments that inspired me to adopt interactive teaching in the kitchen is when I witnessed my mother and father holding vegetable corers and gathering their grandchildren around them. That time, each kid held a vegetable and tried to hollow it out then stuff it with rice and meat. Then, my mother would put a toothpick in it to distinguish it. Each child was eager to have his own stuffed veggie and then my father would give them nice food-related riddles to solve.
LET US BEGIN WITH YOUR OWN WORLD; WHAT ATMOSPHERE SURROUNDED YOUR CHILDREN WITHIN THE KITCHEN?
I remember my late mother-in-law saw me cooking with my children. Then she whispered in my ear and said “I bet you will succeed with other kids as well as your own children”. Perhaps that started my desire to begin my project, especially since I am very patient when it comes to giving more freedom for kids in the kitchen and allowing them to make a mess then we clean up all together. All I wanted is to root the love of cooking inside them.
WHAT MAKES MIRA’S YOUNG CHEFS SO DISTINGUISHED?
This project is based on lessons that combine my passion towards cooking and the love of educational sciences to the extent that I made a special curriculum for each training session that I make, as I included, while cooking, lessons in geography, mathematics and health in an attractive way. Moreover, I write my recipes in both Arabic and English to teach the children terms in both languages.
For me, cooking is not just about mixing ingredients together; it is also about nurturing innovation and encouraging unconventional thinking.
I managed to make education more fun through nutrition-related games in order to stimulate the children’s senses in a time when culinary education at schools has declined since teachers have lost motivation in teaching cooking to school students; hence, students will not collaborate with conventional teaching methods. My endgame here is not to convince children to become chefs, but to deliver a message that this is a vital life skill that everyone, including young boys and girls, must learn. Who knows? perhaps they will be able to discover their passion as well.
My classes are available year-round and I use my spare time to organize women classes in addition to preparing food orders.
YOU WERE AWARDED THE TITLE “JAIME OLIVER FOOD REVOLUTION AMBASSADOR, HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE THIS TITLE?
For a couple of years, I tried contacting many organizations and initiatives, including the “Food Revolution” team which is led by the star chef Jaimie Oliver. I liked his food revolution show and I was influenced by it, as it is based on establishing a global movement to encourage people to renounce processed foods, especially foods with a high content of sugar, fats, artificial flavoring, and synthetic dyes in favor of reviving simple and homey recipes.
This experience has taught me how to deliver a strong message through cooking and how to face challenges with using natural ingredients instead of processed food. I see that this initiative has reinforced the idea that cooking is an important aspect of helping our children grow up well and healthy.
I joined the food revolution team after contacting them over Facebook. Then they asked me to join their team. After that, I was nominated in the next year to hold the title “Super Ambassador” in 2014 and I was chosen from over 2,000 candidates around the world. I believe I gave them a very good impression as they saw that I have the potential to positively impact my community and the Ambassador’s community as well.
WHAT STYLE OF COOKING DO YOU PREFER TO FOLLOW WITH KIDS?
What distinguishes my sessions and workshops is that I let children prepare real meals and not some “kiddy recipes” and they do them with utmost pleasure.
From my perspective, the application is crucial and parents should assume their responsibility in encouraging their children to apply what they’ve learned and cook at home. Reality says that some mothers enjoy that, while other women don’t find the idea pleasing because they simply want to keep their kitchens clean.
Either way, the joy and sense of accomplishment people have while cooking within a competitive context encourages them more and makes them love cooking even more. I also want to point to the fact that some parents send their children to cooking classes so they reduce their attachment to smart phones, which is a very good decision.
HOW DO YOUR METHODS OF TEACHING DISTINGUISH FROM OTHERS?
I prepare for my classes ahead of time in an organized and precise manner. Moreover, I aspire to strengthen the concept of responsibility through asking each student to clean their work station and follow instructions in addition to encouraging my students to innovate.
I always work on ingraining good habits and values in my students. For instance, sometimes I notice that boys refuse to clean their work stations claiming that this is the girls’ job. This is a common cultural misconception which I do my best to rectify through highlighting the fact that cleaning is part and parcel of the cooking process. With time, this task becomes more fun for them, especially when combined with laughter, songs and contests.
Students can incur some mild injuries due to knife usage even though I teach them the basics an unforgettable way in addition to continuous monitoring. In advanced courses, I allow my students to use the bigger chef knives.
As for self-confidence, I empower it through encouraging distinguished students to appear with me on TV or taking them on trips to the Royal Academy for Culinary Arts in addition to asking them to help as volunteers, not to mention that I always help introverted students to open up more.
CAN CHILDREN INSPIRE YOU AS A CHEF?
Of course! I made up some recipes which I gave some funny names, such as Emergency Salad, “What a Coincidence” sandwich, “Abdullah is lucky to have such a mommy” pizza, and Kanafish Keesh, which was the winning dish of Horeca Jordan 2014 contest.
WHAT ARE THE KIDS’ MOST FAVORITE DISHES?
Kids usually love making pastries and I feel that I win their trust when I teach them the recipe of a delicious and healthy dessert. In addition, kids love special chicken dishes and they usually can’t wait until they apply the recipes they learn at home.
WHAT ABOUT SHARING A RECIPE YOU LOVE TO MAKE?
Yes sure! My late grandma Huda, God bless her soul, used to make some delicious crackers which I call “granny Huda’s thyme crackers”. It is based on a very healthy and delicious Palestinian recipe which is usually made before Eid along with sweet pastry. The ingredients are the following:
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of dried thyme
- 1 and a half tsp. of baking powder
- 3 tsp. of salt
- A sprinkle of instant yeast
- ¾ cups of olive oil and corn oil mixture
- 1 warm cup of water
Firstly, preheat the oven to 270 Celsius, then mix the first three “dry” ingredients together. Don’t forget to hand-rub the thyme. Then, add the oil and stir it fast with a spoon. Don’t mind large flocs. Next, add the water and stir it to form a soft dough. After that, knead the dough while sprinkling flour. Just don’t knead it too much or the dough will harden. Then divide the dough to two to three balls. Put each dough ball on an aluminum tray and sprinkle some flour over it then flatten it by hand until it reaches the tray’s edge. Be advised that the softer the dough the easier it stretches. It is also important to have a small rolling pin to assist with flattening the dough.
Cut the dough into rectangular shapes and bake it in the preheated oven but place it in the bottom of the oven. Pay attention to the dough because it is so thin and can burn easily. If some parts get done before the rest, then get it out fast. You can serve those crackers with tea.
A LOT OF FUNNY MOMENTS HAPPEN BEHIND THE SCENES. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THESE MOMENTS?
There is a funny moment that one of my students named “the Lemonade Tsunami”; one of the students opened the blender cover at the moment another student started it. I believe you can imagine what happened next!
USING HEALTHY INGREDIENTS IS A VERY IMPORTANT ASPECT TO YOU. HOW DO YOU EMPOWER THIS CONCEPT IN KIDS AND THEIR FAMILIES?
My wish is to impact this generation with good practices such as avoiding processed foods, which are laden with sugar, fat, and sodium, in favor of eating more natural foods, vegetables and fruits. After all, malnutrition-related diseases are a number one killer worldwide.
Positively-influencing this generation can be achieved through teaching them cooking techniques to help them rely on themselves and prepare healthy meals more often. Additionally, I show my students some of the materials that would influence them the most in order to help them make healthy and balanced decisions. For instance, one of my students, named Batool, convinced one of her friends not to serve instant chicken nuggets at her birthday party and it worked!
I feel absolutely relieved when I see such influence taking over; my recipes are healthy and delicious and I do my best to reduce their sugar and artificial coloring content. My efforts to create delicious and healthy dishes are endless and I am truly happy to say that I won a gold medal in the vegetarian food category.
WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES THAT SHOULD BE PRESENT IN A PERSON DEALING WITH KIDS AND ADOLESCENTS?
Chefs in such settings must have capacity to take criticism and come up with solutions related to cooking and behavior along with having a healthy dose of positivity and fun. As for children with dietary preferences or restrictions, chefs must find alternative cooking methods or add different ingredients.
Regular chefs focus on the recipe details only, but a chef in my position needs to know how to deal with children and adolescents who need special educational care that complies with them and help develop their cognitive, behavioral and mental functions.
WHAT DISH DO YOU LIKE MAKING THE MOST?
It is hard to define which dish actually, but when I miss a dish, I make it with love and passion. Generally speaking, I am very good when it comes to making “Shawarma Express”, “Kasbah Express” and “Express Burek”.
DO YOU CONSTANTLY BRING OUT THE BEST OF YOUR STUDENTS LIKE YOU DID LAST RAMADAN?
“Mira’s Young Chefs” is blessed because it helps students bring out the values of volunteering and generosity. Thanks to God, we performed numbers of distinguished activities to help those in need, including people with disabilities, to deliver an important message to the community. The last activity we had was amazing; some gorgeous girls helped me prepare meals for families then distributed it despite the fact they had to put in a lot of effort for two days. That moment, I realized that this generation is so generous and giving.
WHAT IS TRAVELING TO YOU?
Traveling helps me expand my horizons; each country I visit inspires me to make unique recipes. When I visited my sister, who is living in the USA, I joined a culinary training session at the ICC, which is one of the highest-ranking organizations in this field.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT PLANS FOR NOW?
I’m preparing a menu for an Arab restaurant in Brazil and I’m about to finish writing the first draft of a cook book for children and hopefully I will publish it soon.
Thank you so much Mira.