Food education on wheels: the possibilities of a 53-foot truck, with a teaching kitchen on-board

JOFF Big Rig

The 2014 Big Rig tour taught more than 5,000 people how to cook, but more than 10,000 people stepped on-board either at events or during one-off demos. Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Oliver Food Revolution

Dreaming big comes easy to Jamie Oliver, the British food activist, 2010 TED Prize winner, and the man behind the 53-foot mobile kitchen that has been touring California for the last nine months. Janey Gourlay, the interim Executive Director of the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, tells us about the truck, the impact and the legacy of teaching people how to cook.

By Janey Gourlay

Kids learn cooking skills on the Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour Photo: © JOFF

Kids learn cooking skills on the Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour Photo: © JOFF

This isn’t just any truck. We’re talking one big beast of a vehicle—beautifully designed, inside and out—on a mission to teach people about food. It’s a custom built mobile teaching kitchen with an expandable, adaptable classroom space, fold out stage with inflatable amphitheatre, vertical herb garden and with integrated sound and visual technology throughout.

Known as our Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen, Jamie hatched the idea in 2010 to bring his TED Prize wish to life: with it, he hoped to create a powerful tool to educate people about food and inspire them to cook. The idea was realised through the design work of the Rockwell Group, the craftsmanship of Farber Speciality Vehicles, the kitchen essentials of Miele, the sponsorship of The California Endowment and the operations expertise of on-the-ground tour company EMG3. A lot of love—and manpower—has gone into the Big Rig!

Student in LA from 2012 Big Rig Classes 2

This student took part in Jamie’s Big Rig classes in LA. Photo: David Loftus

So what’s it like onboard?

When you climb up the seven steps into the Big Rig, you walk into an explosion of color and a buzz of activity. The walls are covered in fruit, vegetable and kitchen utensil graphics; the floor is striped in red and white; the cupboards tell you to “eat,” “grate” and “keep cooking”; a white board announces today’s classes and recipes; meanwhile, TV screens show videos from Jamie’s Food Tube channel and you hear the sound of kitchen appliances doing their job. It’s a kitchen, supercharged! There’s a demo kitchen at the front for the teaching chef, and eight bright red student cooking units, each with hobs (aka burners) built-in on top and wheels on the bottom to allow for various classroom and dining set ups in the expandable main section of the rig. Yes, the rig grows and changes shape on demand. It is the Alice in Wonderland of food trucks.

Big Rig

The 53-foot mobile kitchen that has been touring California for the last nine months, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Photo: David Loftus

The 53-foot mobile kitchen that has been touring California for the last nine months, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Photo: David LoftusWe’ve just come to the end of our 2013-4 tour, and it has left us feeling nostalgic. So it’s time to take stock, look at what we’ve achieved so far and to the future of our 16-wheeled friend.

The Big Rig made its maiden voyage in spring of 2011. From the headquarters of Farber Speciality Vehicles in Ohio, it crossed seven states before launching at TED2010 and finding its home in California. Classes began with a five-week residency at the Boys and Girls Club in South Central Los Angeles, and continued with stops in around the LA area. The Big Rig was on the road for nine months, teaching a total of 1,840 students how to make 10 easy, nutritious and affordable meals. “This was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!” Said 11-year-old Treavonne.

Kids learn cooking skills on the Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour Photo: © JOFF

Kids learn cooking skills on the Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour Photo: © JOFF

The Big Rig was back on the road last year with our first statewide tour across California. The Big Rig visited six communities—Fresno, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Merced, Los Angeles and San Diego—over 40 weeks through to the end of last month. The communities were chosen in collaboration with The California Endowment’s Building Health Communities initiative to improve health in the most in-need areas. The evolved curriculum for this tour included 12 different classes—like “DIY Pasta Sauces” and “Fast Food at Home”— teaching 25 recipes from sizzling beef stir-fry with egg fried rice to superb squash soup. Again, the focus was on the kind of everyday meals that get your mouth watering and show you how easy it can be to make tasty and nutritious food. “What I love about my Big Rig cooking class is the way the instructor and champions talked about the recipes. They took the intimidation and fear out of the recipes and offered practical tips that I think appealed to everyone, regardless of how comfortable they were in the kitchen before arriving at class,” said one student, after her “Risotto Rules” class.

© JOFF, Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour

© JOFF, Big Rig Mobile Teaching Kitchen 2013/14 Tour

This tour taught more than 5,000 people how to cook, but more than 10,000 people stepped on-board either at events or during one-off demos. We hope we empowered some of these people with the skills and knowledge to eat right, for life. If people know about food they can shop confidently and make the right choices for their health. If people know how to cook with fresh ingredients, they can nourish themselves and their families and reverse the trend in diet-related disease. For us to be able to give this gift to people through a traveling kitchen, designed to reach those most in need, it’s enormously impactful. We enable people to be healthier and happier. We see time and time again that our students go on to share their new skills and knowledge with their friends, family and children. That is where the power lies—in the ripple effects of what we ignite in each community the Big Rig visits.

Next up for us: figuring out how to best document and continue this legacy. The Big Rig itself will have a little downtime before getting back on the road later this year. In whatever we do, we always come back to where we began: with Jamie’s TED Prize wish to teach people about food. We’ll think of new ways to continue to bring this mission to life.

Learn more about Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish» 

Read more about the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation»

Jamie Oliver is on a mission to teach people about healthy eating using the Big Rig truck. Photo: David Loftus

Jamie Oliver is on a mission to teach people about healthy eating using the Big Rig truck. Photo: David Loftus