JAMIE Oliver's fight for fresh, healthy food is winning over hundreds of new cooking converts in the fast-food heartland of Ipswich.
The city has seen a stampede of people sign up for the classes, despite a survey finding the community to be the most obese in south-east Queensland.
The brainchild of the British celebrity chef has more than 500 residents on its books until December, with 80 already finishing the program.
The first wave of participants has finished the 10-week course with the second bunch currently taking the cooking lessons.
The centre's management are expecting the strong numbers to continue for years to come, with 2012 bookings expected to be available in the coming weeks.
Centre manager Danella Martin said the feedback had been so great for participants that some are coming back to volunteer.
Demonstrations and advanced lessons for people who have already completed the course are also being considered.
"I think it's just going to grow and grow - word of mouth is spreading and people are coming back," she said.
"People love it, even if they've never cooked before or they already have cooking skills."
The centre was opened with plenty of fanfare on April 14, with classes starting later that month.
Along with individuals, workplaces and community groups are also signing up to learn with their colleagues.
One example is a bunch of male workers from the Ipswich City Council who recently started classes - prompting their female workmates to follow suit.
Brassall resident Shelley Roche is just one of the graduates who have turned their hand to volunteering at the centre.
The mother of two said she believed strong word of mouth was behind the large number of people taking part in the program.
"It is fantastic, and I think people who have done it before are telling their friends and family how good it is," she said. "I could cook already but it just re-energised me, cooking with fresh ingredients and learning new skills."
Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale said the feedback he heard about the centre had been outstanding.
And like many other Ipswich residents, Cr Pisasale said he has walked past the centre at d'Arcy Doyle Place and been hit with the smell of the cooking classes.
"It's been fantastic for Ipswich to host the Ministry of Food centre. It's created interest on a local, national and international level," he said.
Cr Pisasale said he believes Jamie Oliver will be over to visit Ipswich when his timetable allows.
Anyone interested in volunteering to help at the centre can call 3281 0340 for more information.
- The program has drawn strong interstate interest.
- A travelling Ministry of Food van will start operating at the end of the year
- Classes for next year will be added in the coming weeks, check availability at jamiesministryoffood.com.
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