Bath Time’s Lifestyle Editor Naomi Chhatwal and Contributor Lily Roberts recently had the pleasure of meeting the renowned chef Jamie Oliver, a man who has inspired millions across the globe with his approachable way to master the kitchen. His most recent cookbook “5 Ingredients- Quick n’ Easy Food” has been a delight for students, parents and individuals, teaching us that perfection is indeed attainable- actually; it is just 5 ingredients away.
Jamie was kind enough to answer a few questions for us as he passed through Bath. Charming, down-to-earth and full of wit, read about his journey, future plans for the Jamie chain and spoiler alert – his favourite drunk food.
BT: Hi Jamie, thank you so much for making the time to chat to us! We are from the University of Bath’s official magazine we publish anything related to food, lifestyle, culture and arts in this section. Are you happy to go through a few questions with us?
Jamie: Yes, hopefully I can deliver (laughs)
BT: Do you have a favourite Jamie’s Italian?
Jamie: Ooh, that is a really good question, Jesus! I personally have to say Cambridge. Let’s try and bring that back: it is my local city; it is where I grew up. We were able to steal the old library, which used to be the old council offices. The city never even knew about the building, but we managed to get the restaurant in there. As my hometown, it is full of my memories. I’m sure you have those too, being young, being adolescents, all the Friday, and Saturday night outs. It probably really is my favourite.
BT: It must have been nice for you to open up a restaurant in your hometown? To have that possibility?
Jamie: Yeah, it is really nice and actually, I think the idea of the restaurant and the right space for it is a really interesting one. I like small-town, I like it here in Bath or Cambridge. For me, it is about doing things that are fun, appropriate and delicious and that’s what we are changing. How to make these changes is what next year is going to be about for me. Next year is going to be a huge re-launch year. The world has changed, the competition has changed but I think there are fundamental things that will not change. You will be amazed at how many restaurants and direct competitors we have! We are food geeks but want to make good food accessible.
BT: How do you strike the right balance of expanding and keeping true to Jamie’s Italian values?
Jamie: Running restaurants is lovely but really, really hard. It rightfully involves you always questioning. I grew up in it, it’s all I know, it is a nice journey. We are not looking to expand anymore at the moment, we will at some point, in a different way… The whole point of Jamie’s Italian was to always open in beautiful University cities and have a use. But now, next year is about refresh and relaunch and being useful. That is key. We continue to work on Ricotta, include them in our precious and delicious pasta dishes, and people appreciate this. I don’t think we will grow in terms of expansion, but we will grow in smaller ways. I don’t know what these are yet, but my job is to read the next generation and people and there are exciting things to still be done.
BT: What sort of culinary findings inspire you and your ideas for Jamie’s?
Jamie: Wine, for example, comes from incredible vineyards. You can give someone a 70quid bottle of wine, excellent quality, uncorked and 100% draft. Then, you can pay 16quid here with your mates, and get a good glass of wine that is excellent quality. It is little bits of innovation that keep happening, it is such an exciting and moving area. In fact, people think we are innovators, when in reality we are always trying to play catch up.
Finding new things and innovating, we want to change something.
When you get a bit older (for example I’m 42…I know laughs), you appreciate the quality and the excellence behind products. Ultimately what I am trying to do with Jamie’s Italian is be a small independence, not amongst the posh restaurants, (love them), not in the niche restaurants, (although I love them too). We are aiming for mid-market. We want to make great food accessible for everyone: you can come in here and still have salad and pasta for a tenner. Or you can spend more. 36 quid and have four courses. It’s fun.
BT: Now, Jamie, looks like we only have a few minutes left. Let’s do a couple of quick “fire-round” questions to finish off the interview. Are you ready?
Jamie: I’m not very good at quick, I have been working on it for years….but alright:
BT: What is your family’s favourite Christmas dish?
Jamie: Oh, well. (laughs)Other than the best gravy on the planet, potatoes and THE best turkey? If you get these things right, you are home. The pillars of Christmas, everything else is icing, you know what I mean? The perfect roast potato is a luxurious thing in itself. Check out my method, it’s a good one.
BT: So you recently brought out your Quick n’ Easy Cookbook- congratulations, its amazing! What is your favourite recipe?
Jamie: You know what; It’s gone down mad with students, the best response I’ve had in twenty years. Favourite recipe? I haven’t got one, its like asking me which one of my kids I prefer the most, its impossible (but it does change on a daily basis).
What I try to do when I write the books, 70% of what I am really writing is just for you and not for me. It is me trying to give you things that I know you need, want and that comfort. Then I try and write 30% of recipes that are aspirations, a new style, maybe a new ingredient or a new recipe you haven’t tried before. It is simple: its 5 things you can remember, but probably at least 3 ingredients you will have, even as a student! (pauses) Definitely, you will have 2 out of 5. I have done a few projects with students over the years, a lot for budget and cooking for a house, you can do incredible things. But tell you what- any money you save, just gets spent on alcohol (laughs again).
BT: Well, we can’t deny that, but it does raise an interesting question: Do you have a favourite drunk food?
Jamie: Oh man, a burger. Jamie’s Italian does an incredible burger- you have to try it, it is gorgeous. A perfect burger is a science: getting the bun warm enough, spongy and soft; getting the meat just right with the cheese melted on top. We also do a cocktail sauce with secret ingredients; it tastes and becomes very Italian.
20 years ago there were good and bad burgers, but the standards have gone up, there are many different tastes now. I quite like that.