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Jamie Oliver, Food For Thought

Jamie Oliver

In an Australian-exclusive interview globally renowned chef Jamie Oliver reveals to The Retiree a dream to move to Australia and a passion for simple culinary perfection that just won’t go away. Reports Frank Grice.

In speaking with Jamie Oliver it is clear that he is a one-man empire who lacks the dictatorial attributes associated with his mogul status. And that’s no bad thing. After all, a rampaging Gordon Ramsay-style persona probably wouldn’t go down too well after Australian audiences have fallen in love with his cheeky chappy image over the past 15 years.

One of the UK’s richest entertainers, surveying a selfmade empire of nearly £150million, it was the father of four’s fleeting yet impressionable appearance in the BBCdocumentary ‘Christmas at the River Café’ way back in 1997 that struck a chord with producers, who saw potential in the likeable sous chef.

After his phenomenally successful ‘Naked Chef’ series, followed by ratings winners ‘Jamie’s Kitchen’, ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’, ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ and current hit ‘Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals’ – not to mention countless cookbooks and a restaurant empire, which now includes ‘Jamie’s Italian’ in Sydney and ‘Fifteen’ in Melbourne – it’s fair to say the London-based chef has got the industry cooked.

His latest endeavour is Ministry of Food, an enterprising cookery school that promotes his goal of international healthy eating. And with two outlets already opened in Geelong (Vic) and Ipswich (Qld), Oliver is looking to expand within Australia, with plans to embark on a national tour to drum up further interest.

“The work we’ve done with the Ministry of Food is incredibly heartening but we want to expand, get our message further across the country,” Oliver explains to The Retiree. “So I want to do a nationwide expedition, research deeply, and really get a feel for the dietary and nutritional needs of the Australian people – of all ages – to see where more Ministries will succeed.

“I’m hoping to take in Adelaide, Perth, Alice Springs and definitely Tassie! I’m been looking forward to getting out to Hobart, I’ve heard such wonderful things about the cuisine there.”

This obviously leads to asking him the Big Question,  whether Oliver would ever relocate for a permanent move Down Under, such is his fondness for the country. “Yes, it’s actually been something I’ve thought a lot about,” comes the answer. At this point there are sounds of drums and trumpets as Australians around the nation rejoice.

Jamie-and-JulesThen comes “…but right now, with four little ones aged 10 and under, I can’t imagine [wife] Jules would be too up for the idea.” It could be a retirement option, or“Maybe we’ll split our time [between the two countries] down the line… who knows?” Oliver reveals little more to The Retiree’s persistent line of questioning. Oliver, 37, already currently splits his time between two locations. His schedule is divided between his rolling Essex mansion in Clavering – the town in which he grew up and learnt his trade at his parents’ pub, The Cricketers – and a house in Hampstead, North London.

Proud of his young brood (Poppy Honey, 10, Daisy Boo, 9, Petal Blossom, 3, and 2-year-old Buddy Bear), he regularly shares snaps of his family on Instagram. It’s all rather unusual for such a high-profile celebrity.

“They just do so many crazy, nutty things every day, I have to share it with the world,” he laughs. “I mean, the faces that Buddy pulls on a daily basis, they just crack me up.”

Married to former model and author Jules, who he courted in high school, Oliver was once criticised for featuring his family in Sainsbury’s supermarket adverts broadcast in the UK.

“I didn’t really involve them that much; I did a bit in the old days, but not now. They get involved at Christmas and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that really. They all enjoy it, we have a great day and if I’m trying to point out the importance of a family eating together, what better way to do it than that? At the end of the day it’s not false; it’s something we should all aim to do, and that’s what we really do… admittedly, without the TV cameras!”

After years of living in a house full of women, how did it feel when young Buddy Bear came along two years ago?

“It’s heavenly,” he muses. “I think already we have a really special bond that only a father and a son can have. The relationship is completely different compared to my girls – not better, not worse, just different. You really see from a very early age that kids are entirely their own people, and I’ve always found that incredibly special. My only goal is to spend as much time with them as my schedule allows. That can be a battle, but it’s something I must do.”

Having trained at Westminster Catering College, Oliver worked in France for Antonio Carluccio, before joining the acclaimed River Café. Wind forward 15 years and his programs have been broadcast in over 50 countries, with accompanying bestselling cookbooks that have been translated into 26 languages.

Not to mention his numerous range of grassroots programs that are changing the lives of thousands of people, projects that work with kids as young as four through to people in their 80s. They are about raising awareness and individual responsibility, resuscitating dying food culture around the world and, ultimately, keeping healthy cooking skills alive. His projects all aim to educate, empower and inspire people to make better food choices, for life. languages.

JamieOliver-BW_kidsEven after all this success, Oliver is still perplexed by his chain of achievements, starting at an early age. “I look back and I do wonder why I was so successful, if I can say that without sounding conceited,” he tells The Retiree.

“I had incredible teachers – real mentors – who cut out the crap and taught me all the important parts of Italian, French and English cooking”

“I now realise that I didn’t know how to do it all. But, luckily, what I was able to do, at 21, was a few things really well. Because I’d grown up in the restaurant business, worked in some amazing countries and had incredible teachers – real mentors – who cut out the crap and taught me all the important parts of Italian, French and English cooking.

“I also realised that you can learn one thing and then if you think about it, and if you’re smart, you can use that one thing in 20 different ways,” he says, revealing one of his top tricks. “One of the biggest problems with English chefs is that although they’re amazing technicians, they’re not very creative. That’s because they’re always working for other chefs and they never have to think for themselves.”

With his wealth of culinary knowledge, it’s interesting to learn what Oliver’s favourite international cuisine is, The Retiree probes gently. Or is such a question simply too much of a Sophie’s choice?

“Not particularly, it’ll always be Italian and Spanish for me. I like the unfussiness of their cooking,” he continues. “That improvisation – and their love of cooking the right ingredients and putting them together sensibly, rather than overworking things to make them look like an architectural design on the plate – is great.

“That’s what cooking – and eating – should be about,” Oliver smiles. “Just you with friends and family, creating nice meals, not banquets or restaurant food. That’s why, even though I love England – because it’s my country – when it comes to food I’m not patriotic at all.

Jamie-up-close“I should really have been born Italian, because when I think about dishes, even if they’re not Italian, I generally think about them in quite an Italian way! By which I mean if an Italian was going to make a nice dish of something, he wouldn’t spend hours preparing it, doing a julienne of this, that and the other.

An Italian would say, ‘Well, I’ve gotta this wonderful thing, so I’m just-a-gonna roast it and finish it with this and that – and while it’s-a-cooking, I’m gonna go and make-a-love to my wife!’”

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Alana Lowes

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