Five Ingredients — Quick and Easy Food with Jamie Oliver (Penguin) is your 20th book. You have repeatedly — with your books, shows and FoodTube videos — tried to simplify cooking. Why is it important for you to democratise gourmet fare?
Knowing how to cook for yourself is an essential life skill. It enables you to feed yourself and your family with good, wholesome meals, and you know exactly what’s in the food you consume. This is one of the reasons that I’m so excited about this book. It will work for people who are already great cooks, but at the same time, I really think it will appeal to the non-cooks; the millions of people who tend to reheat food in the microwave. Although we obsess about cost and time, being able to memorise the ingredients for your dinner off the top of your head just makes cooking instantly more accessible. I hope that breaking down these barriers will get more people in the kitchen, giving it a go.
How were the recipes in this book chosen?
Being tied down to fewer ingredients made me look for inspiration in loads of places, all around the world. I looked to the big, bold flavours of India for quite a few key recipes, because using things like curry pastes and other spices guarantees a great punch of flavour without taking too many steps to get there. I also looked at how to strip down classic recipes that normally use loads of ingredients to pull out the few ingredients that really make them well-loved. Sometimes, restraint is the best ingredient — holding yourself back and keeping a dish clean and simple makes it easier to showcase all of the wonderful flavours.
How did you home in on the concept? How long did it take for you to put the book together?
The whole process has been a bit of a revelation. For me, five is the magic number. When I tried recipes with three or four ingredients, sure, they were incredibly easy. But, the payoff for that was that they just didn’t deliver the hit of flavour and texture I was after. Using five ingredients allows a balance between simple and delicious. It’s enough ingredients to have some fun with, but not so many that you have to write a list and do a big shop. This one was a quick turnaround — we did it in four months which is pretty unheard of!
What led you to enroll for a Master’s degree in nutrition? How has it impacted your work?
It means I can write super-solid, healthy recipes from a position of knowledge. It’s given me a proper understanding of how the food we eat affects our bodies, and it’s helped me think clearly about how we can fight childhood obesity. I’m so pleased I’ve done it.
You have been critical of Theresa May’s anti-obesity strategy and have expressed your resentment at the lack of initiatives to tackle childhood obesity. Would you like to comment on this?
So many people worked so hard to get the UK government to enforce a sugary drinks tax — it was an incredible achievement last year. But then Theresa May released the follow-up obesity strategy, and it was a joke. Her strategy replaced something that had been much more comprehensive with a flimsy collection of recommendations with no ownership or leadership. My team and I have been working hard ever since to put together our own version of a meaningful obesity strategy. We’re getting there, but we need to keep the pressure on government in the UK, and across the world, to make child health a priority.