Jamie Oliver gives us an insight into his experience in L.A. while shooting his show, Jamie's American Road Trip.
What has been your experience of Mexican food in the past?
I loved most of the Mexican food that I had in the States. But sometimes, I found that restaurants made it heavier, greasier and unhealthier then the real thing. The proper, delicious Mexican food I loved was fresh, delicious, healthy and full of herbs, vegetables, salsas and lean cuts of meat. Really bloody tasty.
Do you think that Mexican food has a similar humble quality to Italian food?
It was incredibly hot when I was in LA and being able to turn on the barbecue, cook lightly spiced meats then serve them on flatbreads definitely had a similar vibe to rustic Italian food. I loved it! The spices are there to make you sweat so to cool you down and obviously the salsa is pretty refreshing as well. There's nothing better on a hot day than dipping some tacos or tortillas in a bowl of fresh cold salsa then washing it down with a cold beer.
Experiencing Homeboy industries – did this remind you of all that you have achieved with Fifteen Foundation?
At Homeboy Industries their big saying is "jobs not jails". Visiting Homeboy was fairly emotional for me for lots of reasons. It made me reflect on the great work that we have done with Fifteen and also made me realise how much work we still have to do. I was very jealous when I saw the size of Homeboy – it's a big place! But what they've done there is brilliant: they aren't just teaching people how to cook, they are also teaching them all the relevant skills related to running a restaurant and bakery. They really see the big picture.
One of the big problems they have at Homeboy is that many of the people who come to them have tattoos relating to the gangs they belonged to. Those tattoos are part of what keeps getting them into trouble so there's a tattoo removal service at Homeboy to help them leave that part of their lives behind. They've also got loads of other services like basic welfare, childcare and counselling. Honestly, it was great to see the extent of the services that they have available on top of all the amazing things that they are doing with food. Homeboy is just an incredible charity. When you visit you can really see the love and respect those tough ex-gang members have for the founder of Homeboy, Father Greg Boyle.
I was also quite jealous because lots of their financial support came from the government. To this day, the Fifteen Foundation is not really supported by our government. We have to raise all of our own finances, which is a constant struggle and something I feel holds us back from growing this brilliant project that we know works into something that could be in every town and city in the country.
Your meeting with Rigo seemed to be very emotional – how was this for you?
Rigo is a top boy. I think he said that out of 32 of his mates only 2 of them that escaped gang life. The rest of them are either dead or in jail. That's pretty shocking. I met so many people in LA who'd been involved in some form of shooting or violence and it's a terrible shame. We've had quite a few students at Fifteen with similar backgrounds but the problems seem more intense in America because of the prevalence of guns. If you're born into that life it is all too easy to become a victim and Rigo is one of the lucky ones. I think the loss of his uncle gave him the power and determination to escape gang life. Now he's got a successful job and a great life. The last time that I spoke with him he was happy, running breakfast at a five star hotel in LA and providing a good life for his family.
How difficult was it then to come back to your life here in London after having such incredible and new experiences in the States?
If anything, these experiences gave me a perspective and made me appreciate what I've got. It's never ever hard to come home to Jools and the girls. I was in America to do my job and hunt down really amazing food. Through the Mexican community and (dare I say it) the gangs, I got to discover, taste and see tonnes of very cool stuff, cook loads of delicious food and become inspired by the ideas and things I saw. What I learnt there will be with me forever and I know I'll be writing recipes in ten years time that include elements of things I discovered on this trip.