The star chef presents a simplified approach to cooking in his latest book and new show, which will air in the UAE on the soon-to-launch Fox Life channel
Jamie Oliver's five ingredients to create tastier food
“T his idea is really basic; I should have come up with this 10 or 15 years ago.” Jamie Oliver is reflecting on the thought process behind his latest TV show and accompanying book, the guiding philosophy of which is that you only need five ingredients to create a great dish.
Nearly 20 years after he shot to international fame with the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver is back on our screens with eight 30-minute programmes. The show is called Quick and Easy and it has the sole purpose of getting everyone cooking from scratch using just five elements per recipe. In the show, the 42-year-old celebrity chef will demonstrate recipes such as sticky lamb chops and lemony courgette linguine from his new book: 5 ingredients.
The show will air in the Middle East on Fox Life, a new lifestyle channel being launched in the last quarter of this year exclusively on e-life. Fox Life is part of a trio of new channels being unveiled by the broadcaster in the next few months. Fox calls it “reality TV tourism”, a window into different cultures, cuisines and lifestyles around the world. Content will focus on travel, home, leisure, wellness and food.
At the launch event for Quick and Easy in London, Oliver explains why this book is different from anything he has ever done before. “Not all my books are for everyone, there are some for advance cooks, some for beginners, books about money or speed,” he acknowledges.
“But this book is probably the easiest book, the most accessible I’ve ever written. It’s probably a book that you could give to a 12-year-old or a teenager, or a student going off to university, but, weirdly you could give this to a really good cook but for different reasons.”
Over the years, Oliver has listened to feedback from around the world and recognised what so many of his contemporaries have failed to see – that opening a recipe book and seeing a long list of ingredients makes the average amateur cook’s heart sink.
This is a lesson he has taken on board himself: “As a cook, just because you’re good doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate being reminded to simplify. This became for me, as a chef, a masterclass in restraint – putting one less thing in.”
Meeting Jamie Oliver in the flesh is a comforting experience – over the course of his 20-year-career, his face has made its way into countless homes via his books or television programmes, so it is strangely familiar. “I feel very lucky,” he says when asked about his continued success. “To have a presence in someone’s home through a cook book is like the best gift ever.”
However, Oliver’s longevity as a TV chef, author and businessman with an empire worth about £150 million (Dh744m) is nothing to do with luck. It’s linked to his ability to move with the times, without losing the energy and enthusiasm that propelled him to TV fame in the first place.
During a live cooking demonstration of two of the recipes from the book – Asian fishcakes and garlic mushroom pasta – Oliver speaks with passion about his love of social media and image-collecting site Pinterest, which has allowed him to connect and share ideas with fans.
“For about 12 years of my career, I had no information,” he muses. “I only learnt from book signings or doing demonstrations [what people thought]. Now with digital and social media, there’s a conversation going on and it’s a global conversation.”
Although he is an avid user of Twitter and Instagram, Oliver knows that it can have its downsides. Last year, he caused a social media frenzy when he shared his take on a traditional paella recipe that included chicken thighs and chorizo. The inclusion of chorizo prompted a furore in Spain as traditionally the dish does not contain the sausage.
Despite the abuse he received, Oliver seems to take in on the chin: “It was amazing getting death threats from Spanish people because of a sausage. But it [the incident] made people discuss what is a paella and what is traditional. Chefs were arguing with each other about it on social media; I quite like that because that’s what it’s all about.”
Oliver is used to taking criticism. His ground-breaking 2004 documentary Jamie’s School Dinners, which exposed shocking truths about what school children in Britain were being fed, earnt him a lot of flak from those who accused him of interfering. However, the programme was a huge hit with viewers and led to the British government pledging to spend almost £300 million (then Dh2.34 trillion) on school dinners: “It went around 80 countries in the world who put it prime time – it went nuts. In Britain, there were standards for dog food but not for kids’ food in schools.”
It is about 13 years since then and he remains committed to improving food for children; all his recipe books now contain nutritional information so readers can make informed choices. “It doesn’t matter what book I’m writing, nutrition will always be there. Whether you use it or not is up to you but it’s there. It’s up front and it’s clear,” he explains.
Healthy eating has become his passion and is a value he and his wife, Juliette (Jools) have impressed upon their five children – Poppy Honey Rosie, 15; Daisy Boo Pamela, 14; Petal Blossom Rainbow, eight; Buddy Bear Maurice, seven; and River Rocket, one. The new book is dedicated to his five children – or his five ingredients. “Luck”, he jokes. “Now I can’t have any more.”
“My kids eat well at home. There’s no need for junk food because it’s expensive and why would you want it if you can cook?” he responds, proving that no fast food from burger outlets is ever to be found in the Oliver household.
The celebrity chef’s TV shows are famously a family affair, his wife, his children and even his grandmother have been known to make an appearance to help him out with some of his cooking. However, the inclusion of his children is not just for show, it’s because he firmly believes chi ldren should be taught to cook.
“Teaching my kids to cook, I do it for fun. Although it’s deeply political, they don’t know that – we just have fun learning about where food comes from, growing stuff,” he says. “That’s really important and that’s why I believe that every child in every country in every school should grow stuff.
“For me, knowing how to cook – that life skill – is what helps families, rich or poor, have a nice life. If we can gift that to our children in all of our countries, we’ve got the first pillar of a society right.”