“UNTIL I had children, I couldn’t cook.”
North Albury mother Cathy Giltrap admits there have been a few experiments, even some failures, as she learned to find her way around a kitchen.
“But it’s such a great process, a creative process,” she says.
“It’s so easy once you start.”
Ms Giltrap is aware of the health benefits of home cooking too, a growing issue as Australia is now the fourth fattest nation in the world.
“That’s not a competition we want to win,” she says.
But the dynamo behind Albury-Wodonga’s charge to host a Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food pop-up kitchen has faith in the future.
A spirited local campaign saw the Border chosen as the NSW finalist for the project, which would see the celebrity British chef set up a kitchen for 12 months as part of his healthy eating initiative.
“What really stood out about the Albury-Wodonga proposal was the community support,” Ms Giltrap says.
Five days after starting a Facebook page, she had garnered 1000 “likes” and this had risen to more than 3000 by the time the winner was announced last weekend.
Print and broadcast media, including The Border Mail, spread the word while local councils, businesses, organisations and individuals responded positively.
Last Sunday Ms Giltrap learned the pop-up kitchen went to a South Australian bid from Colonnades Shopping Centre and the City of Onkaparinga, but the story is far from over.
Jamie’s Ministry of Food chief executive officer Alicia Peardon says the search for the pop-up centre has produced incredible support and enthusiasm from passionate people throughout Australia.
“We fully intend to continue the dialogue with each of the state finalists in an effort to continue the growth of the program to help instigate change in communities across the country,” she says.
Although disappointed by Sunday’s result, Ms Giltrap says the winning entry fitted in well with the project’s goals.
“Obviously I wish it had been us, it would have made it so much easier,” she says.
“I understand why South Australia was chosen; if I was the Ministry of Food, I’d have had to choose them as well.”
The decision appears to have been a close one: Oliver told the finalists it had almost come down to the roll of a dice.
“We need to start getting a little bit angrier, we need to be a little bit more impatient”
Ms Giltrap and her husband attended the Sydney announcement, sharing lunch with the other state and territory winners at Jamie’s Italian restaurant.
“The food is fabulous; really tasty but really achievable, good food you can imagine cooking at home,” she says.
She then joined a packed crowd at Kitchen Talk with Jamie, where Oliver and Australian chefs Tobie Puttock, Anna Gare and Ben O’Donoghue shared recipes and tips.
Ms Giltrap says it was a great experience to see the British celebrity chef in action.
“He’s a powerhouse of inspiration; the dedication he has about trying to improve our health,” she says.
“You just wish you could bottle him and give a live show in every region.
“You do come out and you do feel very inspired.”
Oliver announced Australia could be the first country in the world to beat diet-related disease.
“I love this country and I’m committed to this country, but as a foreigner in your country, I also believe this is my best chance to show best of practice,” he says.
“I believe that when I go back to the EU and all those folks back home in England (and) America, I want to be able to say, ‘The Aussies did it, so why can’t you?’.”
But Oliver says nothing will happen unless we get a little riled up.
“I just hope what we’ve displayed allows ... maybe the people that are reading this to just get a bit angry and expect more,” he says.
“We need to start getting a little bit angrier, we need to be a little bit more impatient.”
And he believes this needs to be backed by government and corporate funding.
Oliver says there’s enough money out there, in businesses and the government, but people need to work together.
“It can’t just be a couple of cute people with a chip on their shoulder about crap food that are going to fix it,” he says.
As Australia’s biggest killer, diet-related disease must be on the government’s agenda.
“If it was national security because of gun crime, you’d have politicians running all over it to try to get the vote,” he says.
The national search to find a pop-up kitchen location attracted 170 applications within 24 days.
But Oliver says there shouldn’t be a need for the Ministry of Food concept, which is based on providing cooking classes and information to inspire people to get into the kitchen and prepare healthy home-cooked meals.
“Every child in this country deserves as a human right to be taught about food,” he says.
“If we don’t demand it from our local and federal government then shame on us.”
Ms Giltrap says since Albury-Wodonga missed out on the pop-up kitchen, the offers of help have not stopped coming.
“So much support shows it was the right time,” she says.
“We need to strike while we can to get it going and keep it going.”
This week Ms Giltrap has spoken to Wodonga and Albury councils as well as the Ministry of Food to discuss options for the future.
Healthy Together Wodonga, a partnership between Wodonga Council and Gateway Community Health, has thrown its support behind the project as an initiative that can offer long-term health benefits.
The partnership recognises Ms Giltrap’s goals align with its own — the principles around food literacy, helping people to cook healthier food for themselves and encouraging everyone to eat more fruit and vegetables.
A community meeting to gauge wider reactions, offers of help and ideas around a pop-up kitchen is planned within weeks.
“I really want to make sure that everybody’s voices are going to be heard and we can get the best out of this as possible,” Ms Giltrap says.
Preparing Albury-Wodonga’s application helped reveal to her the number of agencies in this area that assist people as well as their necessity.
“There’s an amazing amount of need in this community that we’re probably not aware of,” she says.
She hopes the campaign can bring together the many active grassroots and not-for-profit groups on the Border and even go beyond the important core business of the Ministry of Food.
“Actually bringing together primary producers of the region to help with their market a bit more.
“Then it can be a space where the participants can have long-term access to sustainable food.
“I think that we can be a template for other regional areas.”
Ms Giltrap feels missing out on a pop-up kitchen at this stage may even prove an advantage in the long term.
“Even to get it always was a two-edged sword, we’d have been getting it for only 12 months.
“It might have come a little bit too easily.
“We’re not asking the Ministry of Food to come in and fix our problems.
“This way if we can manage to pull it together and make it happen ... we’ll be getting it up on our terms.”
Even though the campaign has been called Albury-Wodonga, Ms Giltrap hopes a future centre will benefit the North East and Riverina too.
“There is a lot of energy here,” she says.
“I think we really are poised to pull something together and show other people how it can be done. Now is the time for our region.”
— with AAP