He's been cooking since he was eight years old, standing tiptoe atop a wooden beer crate in his father's pub chopping vegetables. So it would be fair to say there's little left for Jamie Oliver to learn in the kitchen.

Or so he thought. This week, the world's most celebrated chef will launch his latest cooking show in Australia, Jamie And The Nonnas, the culmination of a two-year project in which Oliver and his mentor, Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo, travel deep into the Italian countryside in search of cooking secrets held by the nonnas.

Jamie Oliver with Nonna Marla from the chef’s new TV show Jamie And The Nonnas.
Jamie Oliver with Nonna Marla from the chef’s new TV show Jamie And The Nonnas.

"The reason we wanted to do it now is that it's the last generation, in my opinion, of the old-school nonna, the original cooks who didn't grow up with fridges and freezers and supermarkets," Oliver tells BW Magazine.

"I'm always learning and there's always more to learn. Every nonna we cooked with, in modern-day training terms as a chef, was cutting completely wrong with the wrong knife and there were erratic-sized bits of this, that and the other, and of course we're trained to cut everything the same size.

"I kind of find myself cooking more like a nonna now than a chef."

Oliver says the project - which took much longer than anticipated and went way over budget - was one of the most fulfilling of his life. The nonnas they met couldn't speak English and had no idea who Jamie Oliver was, but welcomed him into their homes and passed on their secrets in the kitchen.

Oliver says he feels the full responsibility of having these priceless recipes and techniques in his possessions and laughs at the mention he is now the gatekeeper of these precious culinary hand-me-downs.

Jamie Oliver filming the TV show Jamie And The Nonnas in Italy. Picture: Supplied
Jamie Oliver filming the TV show Jamie And The Nonnas in Italy. Picture: Supplied

"Italy like any other country on the planet is evolving fast and you can't stop progress but you can look back and capture the moment," he says.

"They were quite adamant and bullish that it was mine and Gennaro's responsibility to use whatever mediums we had and to share (these recipes) with the world.

"Of course, none of the nonnas knew who me or Gennaro were, of course they knew there was a film crew with us but they had no idea their recipes and their learnings and their stories would be shared with over 220 channels."

Like most of his television shows, this one is accompanied by a cookbook - Jamie Cooks Italy: From the Heart of the Italian Kitchen - which is filled with hundreds of recipes from antipasto, soups and pasta to bread recipes and desserts.

It also contains stories from the women themselves, including the Orecchiette Nonnas, a group of friends who make fresh pasta from scratch every day.

Jamie Oliver took two years to film his latest TV show, Jamie and the Nonnas, in Italy. Picture: Supplied
Jamie Oliver took two years to film his latest TV show, Jamie and the Nonnas, in Italy. Picture: Supplied

The project has reaffirmed in Oliver the notion that children today are not picking up the basic kitchen skills they will need as adults like past generations did.

"What's sad about Britain and Australia is that we keep looking at the concept of cooking, budgeting and nutrition as this middle-class luxury that's cute," he says.

"And it's not cute. I can guarantee you one thing, if every 16-year-old Aussie could cook 10 recipes to save their life, understand the basics of nutrition and how to budget and be able to eat well even if they did not have much money, that community, that country would be a lot more sustainable.

"Sadly there is no statutory cooking lessons of any kind in Australia, it's all optional in schools. If you don't do a good job with your homework you don't die seven to 10 years younger than you should.

"If you don't know how to cook, statistically you are going to live seven to 10 years shorter on this planet. One day we'll address this when its gotten so bad we can't ignore it."

Father of five Jamie Oliver is passionate about getting kids into the kitchen and learning about nutrition.
Father of five Jamie Oliver is passionate about getting kids into the kitchen and learning about nutrition.

Getting kids into the kitchen is something the father-of-five is passionate about.

"Kids are incredible, they're technical, they're agile, they're quick, they learn, they pick up," he says.

"The last couple of generations have cooked less than our predecessors. We're frightened about heat and we're frightened about knives, and rightly so, but fear needs to be harnessed and you need to teach them how to respect a blade, how to look after it, how to clean it, how to handle heat and fire and work with it, all of these old-fashioned things.

"I just think it's so important."

* Jamie And The Nonnas airs Wednesday at 7.30pm on Network Ten