Oli Blanc seeks to reconnect children with fresh produce and the environment

Oli Blanc Raymond Blanc Charlotte Salt cooking with kids

Oli Blanc (centre) and the co-creators of Henri Le Worm want to enthuse children about good food

Raymond Blanc and Oli Blanc
Henri Le Worm is based on Oli's dad, chef Raymond Blanc (left with Oli)

Most children are inspired by their parents in some way, but when your father is one of the most well-known chefs in Britain, there’s a lot to take from. So, actor, educator and ethical entrepreneur Oli Blanc naturally did the only thing there was to do: he turned his dad, Raymond Blanc, into an educational cartoon worm for kids. Produce Business UK catches up with the man who wants to change the way the next generation views fresh produce

Welcome to the world of Henri Le Worm. It’s an educational setting for children where insects help to transport the goodness of the garden to fruit and vegetable patches so humans can reap the benefits of fresh, nutritious food – all via cook-a-long recipes and kitchen-garden inspired games.

Available online and via an app, Henri – a jolly, albeit slightly podgey worm, who’s voiced by UK actor Simon Pegg and sports a long moustache, red neck tie, beret and stripy t-shirt – invites children from ages three to eight to meet his beneficial bug friends, play games related to growing and cooking fruits and vegetables, and learn facts that will hold them in good stead in their adult lives. 

Henri Le Worm game inside the kitchen

Life in the Kitchen Garden

As Henri jumps around the screen, conjuring up recipes, praising his little helpers and exclaiming “oh, la, la!”, I can’t help but wonder – as an admirer of Raymond Blanc’s work – that this was what it was like growing up with a superstar chef for a dad. Oli finds this rather romantic idea amusing, before revealing the reality was a little different.

“Henri Le Worm is based on my dad’s larger-than-life character, his passion for food and his humble kitchen garden beginnings in France, rather than any experience I had of him in the kitchen when I was younger,” explains Oli, who is this year’s ambassador of the London Produce Show and Conference and will take part in the three-day trade event on June 8-10.

“It was always my mum [Jenny Blanc] who cooked for us at home as dad was cooking all day, every day. My mum is Le Cordon Bleu-trained and I did learn a lot from her – about where our food comes from – while I learnt a lot about professional food from my dad and all the restaurants we were taken to. I had two different food educations.”     

It’s probably a good thing the story and cookery game aren’t based on real life, seeing as Henri Le Worm’s kitchen is a soily, underground cave. Co-created with Blanc’s business partner and actor, Charlotte Salt, the game's story starts off in the garden or ‘Forest of Plenty’ with Sebastian the Slug – his brother’s namesake, by the way. Kids pick the produce they’d like to cook with (by tapping on the screen and hearing various facts about the fruit or veg selected) and follow Henri Le Worm to his kitchen. Then this cookery-centric adventure goes full speed ahead as a dastardly maggot, serving as a fitting baddie, sets out to steal Henri’s cookbook and win the bugs’ cookery competition. 

A lost connection

“My grandfather and dad both grew up with their gardens being turned over for fruit and veg,”  explains Oli, who visits around 10 primary schools a year to introduce the award-winning game to children and set up kitchen gardens.

“Each house had a potager with rows of veg, herbs and plants, as well as rabbits to eat. Children just don’t have that connection with their food that people had to have [in previous generations]. Our society is getting further and further away from knowing where food comes from and how important the right foods are for us.

“Food is one of the great pleasures of life and the ecology behind it is fascinating. Insects have a role to play in the garden and Henri Le Worm offers an education through entertainment, using humour, colour and fun.

“It is a great shame that schools treat home economics as a weaker or lesser subject. We are what we eat and, unfortunately, that is backfiring on the next generation. We are at the stage where one in three children leave primary school obese, and numerous kids have major tooth decay.” 

Kids cooking at Henri Le Worm cooking demonstration

Cooking up change

Describing the Henri Le Worm game as a ‘modern-day pop-up book’, Oli believes children can absorb any knowledge as long as it’s presented in an interesting way. He is eager to reconnect children with fresh produce, the environment and how important it is to nourish the body with the right foods.

The game features 10 recipes by Raymond Blanc for children to cook at home with their parents. Each includes a message to the parents with indicators as to where the kids can cook and where they will need help. Oli is now working on turning the game into a cartoon, with the hope of getting a TV slot.

“We need to be eating more fruit and vegetables in the future – not just because they have all the vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy, but because farming animals for food is using up too much space and water, and it produces gases that are detrimental to the environment,” Oli says.

“School meals are more often than not full of sugar and processed foods. Campaigners like Jamie Oliver have proven time and time again that bad food in the public sector is a result of sheer laziness, not because it is the cheap option. The sector is missing the will and expertise, and, most importantly, it is not interested in children’s health and nutrition.

“Less sugar, trans fats and processed food and more fresh fruit and vegetables result in brighter, more switched-on individuals. Children need to be fuelled with the right foods, just like our insect friends in the Henri Le Worm story.”

When Oli visits schools or hosts cookery demonstrations at places like Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, he works with children to inspire them about nature and food via simple recipes, like grilled peaches with lavender, or a globe artichoke salad.

“Sometimes it is as much about inspiring the teachers and parents as it is the children,” points out Oli, who believes the fresh produce industry has both a responsibility and an opportunity to educate the next generation to eat quality food that’s as local as possible and plenty of fresh fruit and veg.

“The fruit and veg industry needs to run focused campaigns that work with children. The more children grow up balanced and supported by good food, the more they will buy into the category and influence others later on in their lives about a healthy, better way of living.

“We are at a knife edge. Look at all the food programmes, the popularity of baking and chefs, as well as the success of food magazines, websites and blogs – fruit and vegetables are about to be taken a lot more seriously. Growing more fruit and veg in this country is the best thing the government can get behind as it will work out as cheaper in the long-run and it’s better for the environment.

“Further afield, with ObamaCare [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the US] coming into place and more ethical food choices emerging, there will be a change in diet. The story of fresh produce should get out there – fresh produce is living and takes time and effort to grow, so it should be treated with respect.” 

Henri Le Worm cooking demonstration Hampton Court Palace

A closer look at Henri Le Worm

The story: Interactive and very easy to use, the Henri Le Worm game takes children from a fruit and veg patch to Henri’s underground kitchen, where he serves a breakfast banquet before racing through the Forest of Plenty to reclaim his stolen cookbook and win the cookery competition.

By touching the screen children can flip a pancake, pour orange juice, help characters find their way or open things for them, as well as touch items, like cucumbers and the insects to learn facts about each object.

The facts keep on coming on a rather long loop, so children could get lost for hours in this story, or even just the first game. If kids want to go to a certain game in the story or go back and play a section again, they can do so by tapping a tab in the top left-hand corner, which lists the scenes in order.

Educational and fun: The game is both informative and entertaining from an indoor herb garden – which educates users about how to grow, cook and pair herbs – to the talking portraits of worm family members on the wall.

Facts from Sebastian the Slug, like: “fresh lettuce leaves contain lots of vitamin C to fight colds and infections” or “cucumber sandwiches – very posh and very English: one of my favourites”, will keep kids informed and amused at the same time.

Graphics: An award-winning design, the scenes and characters are colourful and continuously moving, with instructions in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to tap arrows and move forward.

Derek the ladybirdThe bug friends are intricate and a lot of fun. Derek the Ladybird from Brum (pictured left) not only sports a Birmingham accent but wellington boots, a necktie and a bobble hat, while Texas Lou, the sheriff of the forest who wears a cowboy boot on each leg and a cowboy hat, explains how spiders keeps the garden tidy by catching flies and other insects in their webs, and Tina the Flea has a bow in her hair.

Best bit: Compelling and interactive, the game draws users into a world where producing food and eating well is the ultimate goal, without being preachy or overtly educational. It’s funny for both kids and adults to watch, especially considering Henri is endearingly based on Raymond Blanc.

In short, the game makes learning some of life’s essential skills fun in both a responsible and non-genderised way.

Henri Le Worm online game

Follow Henri Le Worm

Twitter: @HENRILEWORM
Facebook: lewormhenri
Website: henrileworm.com 

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