International mega-chef and family man Jamie Oliver chats to Time Out about good food, health, the UAE’s carbon footprint and interior design.
Lately you’ve become as famous for your politics as you are for your cooking show. Yeah. I don’t think I’m the only person that finds politics hard these days. I just feel that when you start paying tax – and I’m proud to pay British tax – you should care what happens to it. But I want people that are experts to spend it, not people that are shifting, moving left, right and centre. When I started getting involved in changing school dinners in England, I met four education secretaries in four years. How can that be good? If I changed my head chef in my restaurants every year I’d be bankrupt.
You advocate serving healthier food in schools, but not all the recipes in your books are healthy. I don’t class what I do as healthy food. I just call it proper food. If you review all my books you can find unhealthy recipes, of course, but it’s proper food, a balanced diet. In Great Britain, we’re the third most obese country in the world, and we’ve got the first generation of young kids expected to live shorter lives than their parents. Type-II diabetes is going through the f****** roof. We’ve proven in the last year and a half that proper food at the right time improves your intelligence and attainment by seven to 10 per cent. Imagine being in charge of a country, and being able to make your kids and future adults seven to 10 per cent more clever. I mean, f*** me, that’s got to be a good thing.
Why have you made this your cross to bear? I think everything I’ve done today is my job to do, paid or not paid. If you have a relationship with the public, you have a responsibility. If you were an alien who came down to this planet in 1,000 years time and looked back at the history and saw it all going wrong, the first thing you’d say is, ‘All right, who had the ear of the public about food the most?’ And they’d go, me. If I didn’t do what I do, they’d go, ‘What were those lazy f****** doing?’
You’re designing kitchens for the Water neighbourhood at Jumeirah Golf Estates. In the UK, your work focuses on disadvantaged youths and poor communities. Here you’re catering to multi-millionaires. You’ve got all the luxuries and riches in the world here, and probably a lot of cooks to cook for people, but it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, the best luxury in the world is knowing how to nourish yourself and your family. It doesn’t matter if you have a cook that cooks for you, you still have to know what’s going in your gob. Bad health isn’t a class thing. There are plenty of city boys out there who are minted but live like f****** pigs.
You have three restaurants opening up here. Any plans on bringing your restaurant, Fifteen, over here? Funnily enough, that was [Leisurecorp’s] first in to me. They wanted a Fifteen. I said, ‘Listen, we open Fifteen in places with really bad unemployment, you have f****** zero unemployment over here. So Fifteen isn’t really that viable in Dubai.
The UAE has one of the worst carbon footprints in the world. Does it give you pause, when opening a restaurant here, that you could be contributing? I’ve been through this a lot with [Leisurecorp]. I can’t comment on the UAE, but our project is about as carbon neutral as you can get. The technology they’re using for recycling and solar power is beyond anything I’ve seen. I’m going to try and grow as much stuff locally as I can, and I’ll be buying local lamb. We have a plethora of water here. They’re recycling and reusing sewage water, and it’s so efficient that they have too much.
But you’ll still have to import? Of course, I’ll have to import a lot of it: cheeses, meats, but I think cooking is about being bright and intelligent wherever you have to be. If you’re essentially in the middle of a glorified desert, you still have to be bright and intelligent. Importing can be very effective. It’s not so much importing, but what you’re importing.
Since you’ve been here, have you had the chance to eat at any of the Michelin chefs’ restaurants; ie, Rhodes Mezzanine or Verre? No, I don’t really gain anything by that. I respect them, and I’ll go to their restaurants maybe three times a year, but I don’t like having to feel like I’ve got to behave in a certain way.
Do you feel any rivalry with Gordon Ramsay or Gary Rhodes? Not at all. As far as I can tell, my restaurant will be unique in Dubai. I know I’m biased, but I gain nothing from bulls******* you. Jamie’s Italian has just opened two restaurants this year in the worse recession we’ve had for 20 years. I wanted to create a concept of brilliant ingredients that would be affordable to people who buy my books, and our average spend per head is £19-21 (Dhs120-133).
Including drinks and everything? Yeaaah! I’ve never witnessed a business like it in Great Britain since the ’80s. We have a queue of 50 people that are getting dealt with fast. We’re feeding people in the lines with nibbles.
Given what you’re worth these days, how do you respond to criticism that you may be out of touch with your constituency? I didn’t make me rich, the public made me rich. They bought my books and I’ve sold 22 million of the things; that’s a lot of f****** books. I grew up in a pub so I love people. When I was a kid I served gypsies, farmers, city boys. I think if you look at the last 10 years, whether people like me a lot, there’ll always be Jamie lovers and Jamie haters, but at least I’m f****** consistent.
1999 Naked Chef first airs on BBC
2001 Jamie Oliver’s first book, The Naked Chef is published
2001 Jamie’s Kitchen, in which Jamie mentors 15 disadvantaged youngster, is shown on the BBC.
2002 Jamie Oliver opens his first restaurant, Fifteen, inspired by Jamie’s Kitchen. The restaurant’s purpose is to give disadvantaged youngsters, between the ages of 18 and 24 the chance to work as apprentice as chefs.
2005 Jamie’s School Dinners airs on the UK’s Channel 4.
2008 His newest show, Ministry of Food, screens on Channel 4.
Jamie gets naked
Jamie Oliver gives us his unbridled opinion on…
Drugs ‘Chillis have got a chemical called capsicum inside them which is similar to morphine. When all my friends were going to raves, I was gettin’ down with these bad boys.’
Family ‘As soon as she has had the next baby we will get it tucked up with the mother-in-law and get out here with our other kids for a holiday.’
His burden ‘I just spent a year doing [TV programme] Ministry Of Food. Deep down, do I really want to do that? No f*****g way I do. I want to be in Thailand, learning how to make kick-ass stir fries and learning about new ingredients and cultures. I don’t want to be sitting doing depressing stuff. But it’s my job to do it. It’s not on a CV or contract, but it’s my job.’
Jamie Oliver will be opening one restaurant in 2009 and two, Jamie’s Italian and a new barbecue concept, in 2010.