Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The day Jamie Oliver got a grilling

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver was giving evidence to MPs in their health inequalities inquiry

No-one could accuse the MPs on the health committee of being star-struck. Well, at least not until they had finished quizzing TV chef Jamie Oliver.

At the start of the evidence session on health inequalities, the politicians kept Mr Oliver waiting outside with the hordes of journalists covering the event.

Even when the man famous for putting school meals on the political map was seated before eight-strong panel, the MPs refused to bend the rules.

Committee chairman Kevin Barron asked the TV chef to identify himself and explain what his current job was, prompting an outbreak of laughter.

Admittedly, this did throw him. Once he had given his name, he seemed slightly unsure about how to describe himself, before settling on a chef-cum-broadcaster.

During the 90-minute session, the MPs did not give him an easy life at all. At one point the Labour MP Doug Naysmith interrupted Mr Oliver to complain he was not answering his question.

School meals

For his part, the 33-year-old chef was not cowed. While he stated right at the beginning that he was apolitical, he soon let rip at the government's response to his school meals campaign.

He said it was a "disgrace" that more dinner ladies had not been given training on food and nutrition and the money invested so far was simply not enough.

He also criticised the tendency of councils and local NHS chiefs for spending public health budgets on promotional material rather than just providing free cooking lessons.

In many ways, the approach taken to the session was not that different from any of the other sessions that the committee have held at its Portcullis House base, which is a stone's throw form the House of Commons.

But once it was over, the resolve of the MPs melted.

As we have seen, Jamie Oliver has had quite a powerful impact on this agenda
Kevin Barron, chairman of the health committee

Liberal Democrat Sandra Gidley approached Mr Oliver and asked him to sign one of his books for her, while others stopped to have a chat to perhaps the most famous chef of his generation.

The next person due to come before the committee, Health Secretary Alan Johnson, is hardly likely to get such treatment. But then again, who is?

For a committee more used to quizzing NHS finance directors, the appearance of a celebrity is certainly a novelty.

And perhaps it is one that will not be repeated. Some of the cross-party group were known to be displeased that Mr Barron had invited Mr Oliver in the first place.

Not that the Labour MP was in any mood for apologising.

Afterwards, he said the session had gone really well and given a "real insight" into families that had turned their back on cooking - Mr Oliver's latest programme is based around his attempts to teach a group of Rotherham families how to cook.

And as the MP for Rother Valley, whose constituency covers part of the South Yorkshire town, Mr Barron knows about the power of celebrity.

"As we have seen, Jamie Oliver has had quite a powerful impact on this agenda. I think it was important to find out about his perspective."

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