Having made such a pucca impression on the global culinary diaspora, Jamie Oliver, that chef celebre, has now cast his eyes on our shores. Oliver is an éminence grise in food around the world, whether he’s shooting a show or taking up causes such as healthier school lunches or his recent assault on sugar. In an email interview, we question Oliver on everything from Fifteen (his charity-run restaurants which work with underprivileged kids to train them to be chefs) to his food philosophy.
Could you tell us a bit about how you got into cooking? Your parents owned a pub in Clavering village, Essex, of course, but what drew you to the kitchen?
I grew up in my parents’ pub and was lucky enough to be constantly surrounded by beautiful ingredients and home-cooked food. My dad used to give me pocket money for helping out in the kitchen, normally doing the washing up! I became interested in cooking and food at a really young age.
What is your earliest food memory?
When mum used to take me to do the weekly food shop, we’d sometimes have a little picnic in the car before we went home. I’d always want a layered salad with prawns. I have really fond memories of our little car park picnic.
What led to your cooking philosophy of locavorism?
Traceability of produce is what I’m really concerned about. It’s brilliant if you can source locally but I actually think it’s even more important to know where what you’re eating has come from. We have full traceability of all produce in the restaurants. All of the ingredients we work with are sustainable and of the best quality. All of the suppliers we work with are fully supportive of our ethos and adhere to it.
Your favourite meal to eat? And your favourite meal to cook?
My desert island dish is penne arrabbiata with loads of chillies. I’d use fresh chillies in the sauce and dried chillies in some pangrattato for a double hit of flavours and texture. To cook, it would probably be a beautiful pie. There’s something really satisfying about a homemade pie and watching everyone digging into it when it’s ready.
Have you been to India before? Do you enjoy some of the cuisines from here?
I haven’t been but I really want to visit. Over the last couple of years, I’ve become really interested in Indian cooking and whilst I am definitely no expert, I think I can whip up some alright dishes now.
What led to the opening of Jamie’s Pizziera and Jamie’s Italian here? What are your expansion plans?
Our expansion has been very organic. When we opened the first Jamie’s Italian in Oxford, we never dreamed that we’d be opening in Delhi six years later. We haven’t expanded as quickly as some other groups. We’re always very careful not to run before we can walk. We’ve wanted to open in India for a long time but it’s really been about finding the right partners, brilliant locations and, of course, great suppliers. It’s a long process but I’m really excited about where we are now.
Is opening a Fifteen restaurant in the country on the cards as well?
Not at the moment. Fifteen is still the beating heart of what we do and I’m incredibly proud of what it’s achieved but even after 12 years, it’s still a tough project to run.
Will your Indian fans get a chance to experience your cooking personally?
I hope to visit and meet everyone but I won’t be cooking in the kitchen. Our chefs train long and hard and the kitchens they manage are theirs to take ownership of and run. I’m more involved creatively, designing and tweaking the dishes and menus.
You’ve struggled with dyslexia your whole life. Yet you managed to write some stellar cookbooks. Could you tell us a bit about that? And have you read anything after Catching Fire?
With the books, I tend to dictate the recipes and ideas into a dictaphone. I’ve dipped into a few books but do still struggle with it.
What does Jamie Oliver cook at home?
If it’s for the kids, we’ll do something fun like spicy chicken wraps with loads of raw crunchy veggies. If it’s just for Jools (his wife) and I, we’ll maybe have a nice steak with a lovely little dressed salad on the side.