The chef has been on something of a PR blitz recently ahead of the publication of his latest book, Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone, with a profile in The New York Times and an appearance on the BBC's Food Programme.
Jamie Oliver: The Naked Chef Bares All, aired on Channel 4 last night, with host Davina McCall looking back at the last 20 years of the chef's career. Here are some of the main takeaways from the programme.
He 'didn't know what he was doing' with Jamie’s Italian
Production on the documentary had already begun when Oliver’s restaurant group, including the Jamie’s Italian chain, and Barbecoa and Fifteen in London closed and entered administration in May this year. The chef is filmed telling staff at his London office he is “utterly devastated” at the collapse, in which 1034 people lost their jobs, and had believed he could turn around the business. “We got cocky, we thought anything that we did would work,” he says.
A visibly tearful Oliver is also shown meeting with administrators at an empty Fifteen, which still has unwashed plates left in the sink. The chef has said hopes to bring back the project in another form, but admits he made plenty of mistakes running the wider business.
“To survive in this industry is really tough,” he says. “I was naïve at the time. I wouldn’t call myself a businessman. I’m good at a lot of things but not necessarily brilliant at everything. We did plenty wrong. I opened lots of big restaurants and I think people like smaller, medium sized restaurants. You have these big cathedrals that you can’t fill.”
But does he have any regrets? “I would structure it differently,” he tells McCall. “I would put talent first instead of the business. The truth is I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Him and Marco don’t see eye to eye
Oliver admits his rise to fame didn’t go down too well in the restaurant industry, and confirms he and White "don't really get on".
“The chefs in my profession said who’s this little sh*t coming in? I know [White] thinks that I’m a w*nker, and the feeling is fairly mutual. Some of the older established chefs, they hated celebrity chefs. That was one of the hard things to accept, when your heroes don’t like you.”
The sentiment was echoed by White this week, who criticised Oliver for citing Brexit as a factor in the demise of his restaurant group, telling Birmingham Live it was "the lamest excuse in the world".
White added that the only Oliver restaurant he had eaten at was at Gatwick Airport. “It was horrific. We all make mistakes, we all have bad days. But I’ve got to say it was consistently bad on both occasions.”
His big TV break almost didn’t happen
Oliver's television career kicked off with an unscripted appearance on a documentary about London’s River Café in 1997, where he was employed as a sous chef the year before. “I wasn’t actually supposed to be working that day, I was off,” he says. When Christmas at the River Café aired, he had no idea he’d even made the final cut. “I worked the night it went out so I didn’t find out until the following morning,” says Oliver.
The Naked Chef got turned down by Channel 4
After his first television appearance Oliver filmed a pilot for his own cooking show, The Naked Chef, whose title he credits to producer Ben Adler. “I used the words ‘stripping down restaurant food to the bare essentials’ and Ben went, ‘you’re the naked chef’.” The pilot was taken to Channel 4, who rejected it after nine months, but the BBC commissioned it within a week.
His first book was written on a dictaphone
Oliver admits he struggled at school with his dyslexia, and left with only two GCSE’s (apparently in Art and Geology), so was daunted when asked to write his first book. “The only way I could do it was on an old-fashioned dictaphone, every recipe and chapter was on a different cassette,” he says. “The first couple of books me and my mum tested every recipe at least five or six times.”
He nearly went bankrupt opening Fifteen
Oliver was 26 when he opened the first Fifteen in London in 2002, welcoming 15 apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds in to the kitchen to train for a career in restaurants. “The only thing I had in common with those kids is that I had a rough time at school,” he admits. After spending £1.8m of his own money on the opening, Oliver had to remortgage his house to support the project - apparently without the knowledge of his wife. “Theoretically we could have gone bankrupt, it’s only because I got another royalty cheque from Penguin [publishing] I was in the green again.” Nearly 500 students have now graduated from Fifteens that have been active around the world.
Oliver is still ploughing ahead with his media and publishing empire, and conveniently has a new book out today (22 August). After backing the sugar tax, his next campaign is to half childhood obesity by 2030. “Our dream and goal is that every mayor and CEO commits to it, because they should. If they don’t, why?” he says. Like him or hate him, Oliver’s certainly not disappearing just yet.