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Jamie Oliver Interview

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By Malcolm Jolley

Jamie Oliver is the hardest working man in food-show business. Just look at his CV. Since he was discovered by TV director Patricia Llewellyn while working at London's famous River Café in 1997 he's produced ten books, 11 TV shows and done countless other projects, promotions and advertisements, live shows, and whatever else. He has, of course, been handsomely rewarded for his productivity - or rather for some it. Since the early-2000's the 33 year old has increasingly turned his attention to charitable work and food related causes, all of them documented on television: Jamie's Kitchen chronicled his establishment of the Fifteen Foundation, which staffed his first restaurant with disadvantaged kids, Jamie's School Dinners chronicled his efforts to get good, wholesome food into Britain's schools, Jamie's Fowl Dinners turned his attention to the appalling conditions of industrially raised chickens, and most recently Jamie's Kitchen Australia shows Oliver's Fifteen concept exported down under. (Could Fifteen come to Canada? Maybe: read on.)

Oliver was in town last week to promote the Australian show, which is now being aired on food Network Canada, and the companion book to his "gardening show", Jamie At Home, which is being released across North America under the Harper Collins imprint. Before I interviewed him, he made me lunch (well me, and three other journalists, but I'd like to think he seared the steak on the beet salad with cottage cheese with me, the only guy at the counter, in mind). Oliver looked a little more weary than in TV - he'd been on a whirlwind tour of New York and Toronto, mostly signing books for thousands of fans. The cooking style was right out of his shows, and the food looked like a picture from one of his books. He's the real deal. What you see is what you get. There is no TV persona, not even an interview one: when he went aside to speak to his publicists and handlers I couldn't discern any change.

Warning: Jamie Oliver is prone to strong language, especially when he's talking about something he's passionate about. When he cares about the subject, his language is as salty as a sailor's, or rather a cook's.

THE INTERVIEW

Gremolata: You changed my life.

Jamie Oliver: Really?

Gremolata: Yes. My then girlfriend, now wife, and I had your first book, which got us to stuff herbs under the skins of roast chickens, which made us roast a lot more chickens, which got us making stock from the carcasses. When you start making your own stock, you sort of enter a whole new level of home cooking because then your making risotto... Anyway, the end result was this website.

Jamie Oliver: All from one book? That's funny. I've doing a cooking show for the past year in England and people could not fucking believe that they could do better than the £13.99 meal deal at KFC.

Gremolata: This is the Ministry of Food?

Jamie Oliver: Yeah.

Gremolata: And it's in a town called Rotheringham?

Jamie Oliver: Rotherham.

Gremolata: Sorry, Rotherham. Didn't some local politicians get upset because they thought your show was giving their town a bad name?

Jamie Oliver: The press picked out one retired politician who wasn't even in power. He said I was the depicting the town as a broken town. I just said, "Fuck-off, I don't give a shit." You always get some minister who don't like the smell of shit in their own doorstep. I hate those people. I like the ones who want to know what the problems are not pretend it's all fine.

But going back, what was so interesting was just showing [the people on the show] how you can make a roast dinner with all the trimmings, with an organic, free range chicken for £12.50. And then compare that to their fucking £13.99 bargain bucket KFC meal. It's a bit shocking.

Gremolata: And this was because there was no history of cooking in the family?

Jamie Oliver: Yeah. Rotherham is the most average town there is, it's just a metaphor for the rest of the country. Most of the country have never been taught to cook at home or at school, now.

Gremolata: It's that bad? I mean, it's not just a small group of disadvantaged people?

Jamie Oliver: No. What's happened in England is we've got probably about a third of the people who have never got it better. The supermarkets are stocked up, the farmers markets are stocked up...

Gremolata: I've been going to Britain every year since the mid90s and to my eyes there's been a food revolution. In the small town in Wales I visit, the butcher now identifies the meat by farm.

Jamie Oliver: Yeah. They've never had it better. In every way possible. The world's become a smaller place, so they're sourcing incredible products from fucking Timbuktu, they're into their shit and their cooking ability is up and there are better restaurants around. But, I'm kind of not really bothered about that lot anymore. They're well on their way and they're having a great time. It's really the 50% to 65% of people who never learned how to cook, because their mums and dads had to work, or whatever, that interest me. What's ironic is that in a country that has so much more to offer than it used to, if you're in some places or only buy your food in some places, you're worse off than you were before. So, it's really fucking polarised.

But you know what? The ability to sit down and enjoy a meal, to have something bloody tasty with your friends and family has no class. It shouldn't be about rich or middle class or working class. If you flip through Italian or French cookbooks, it's the cucina povera, the poor people's cooking that's always the most creative and exciting. Even since the recession in England more people are buying root veg and shins of beef and shanks of lamb, shit like that. But also, at the same time, my restaurants have never been busier. So, there are really two worlds.

Gremolata: You have been advocate for decent food for years. Have you learned anything? What I mean is, are you better at it?

Jamie Oliver: Oh God, yeah. I've learned that when you do this sort of stuff, you can't please everyone. And everyone's got an opinion. So you have to be quite single minded, you really have to care. But also make sure you get balanced opinions - really balanced. You know I did my show on [the mistreatment of battery-raised] chickens, Jamie's Fowl Dinner, which will be coming out later in Canada, and I really wanted to organic chicken, or at least free run chicken. But what we found was a new minimum standard that was intensive, but was still humane and green. That's what's really relevant to most people. If you have access to money, or your a clever cook and spend a little more here, and save a bit more there, then you can buy free range organic.

The biggest thing that I'm happy about the past seven years is the fact that small amounts of really good information could get across and change lives, change the health and have a domino effect and change the history of your family. You know, if you're a parent and by the time your kid's 16 you can show them how to make a ragu, or a stew, or a soup or a roast, or the mechanics of how to make a pile of salad taste good, that's the Holy Grail. Because they'll teach their kids, and there's that whole thing.

You have kids? You must have pinched yourself and said, "Fuck, I sound like my dad."

Gremolata: [Laughs.] Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

Jamie Oliver: We all do it. But it's getting to that passing on of knowledge that's so important. I suppose what I'm saying to you is that's the change you want.

Gremolata: But I sometimes worry I live in a bit of a foodie bubble.

Jamie Oliver: That's the question: is it just, like, a fucking middle class food club? Or is what we're doing going to change the finances, and the health, and the lifestyle, and the social values of a household? Fucking yes! I've seen it. I've seen it first hand across multiple families. From people on benefits to 86 year old retired people. Three well made meals can change a person's life. And quick: in a matter of one or two weeks.

In some respects what we do - what I do - on television or the internet can ever only be so good because skin on skin is the time when you hook people. That's when you amplify the experience, when you get a person to look at fresh meat, or that piece of fresh fish. That's when they get the confidence to actually go and buy it and put it in that hot pan, and serve it and squeeze a bit of lemon on it and then sit down enjoy it. People aren't buying that stuff because they're scared. It's not the money, you know. The reason fast food and that are so appealing is because they don't waste anything.

Gremolata: So that's why you're not on a beach right now. I mean, you could be.

Jamie Oliver: Let's just say I didn't have a summer holiday this year. Maybe next year.

Gremolata: What about another travelogue? Jamie's Italy was fun.

Jamie Oliver: We're actually doing some stuff around America at the moment, which is kind of interesting .

Gremolata: Will you come up to Canada?

Jamie Oliver: I don't think we're going to have a chance. The problem is it's such a big place, isn't it? I mean, where do you start and where do you stop? But I'd like to do Canada. Maybe next year. Basically, what the story is, what I'd like to do - if I'm allowed - is do some really great cooking shows around Canada, around America, around India, around Asia. Or Germany, where there's some interesting things going on. With every country, once you scratch the surface, there's gold. Do know what I mean? It's just about getting involved, really. All in due course.

Gremolata: One last question: I overheard you say you might have a Canadian partner for a Fifteen restaurant in Canada. The ones that train disadvantaged kids without any other options. Is that right? Are you coming here?

Jamie Oliver: Well, what we're trying to do at the moment is find the money from some government organisation that will allow us to set it up and run it. When we did our last project in England, in Cornwall, the local government paid for Fifteen and then we paid them back in three years. So it's easy money, they get it back - it's safe. 80% of the produce we use is from within 20 miles of the restaurant, all the kids are trained locally. That's the culture of Fifteen: in Amsterdam it's all things Dutch, in Cornwall it's all things Cornish, in London it's all from that part of mid-England. My friend Derek [Dammann] said he would help us find a chef and all the right people from the grassroots here in Canada. And I think it will probably be here in Toronto, for the first one. I'd love to do it for September 2018. I just have to find the government money.

We'll see. Sometimes when you lot talk about it, someone pops their head up.

Learn more about Jamie Oliver at jamieoliver.com.

Click here to save up to 30% when you buy Jamie At Home at Amazon.ca.



Comments


that's a GREAT piece - this guy's passion for his business seems to transcend so much of the faddish trite that passes for food info. You are left with the sense that he will matter, historically, for much more than a few hours of television.
Post Reply By paul on 11/21/2008 9:48:36 AM

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