You would imagine that, as Jamie Oliver, you could do whatever you wanted in the kitchen. Far from it. Take burgers. Jamie isn’t allowed to cook them up the way he likes them at his London BBQ restaurant – because of the Environmental Health. And, if anything, things are getting worse. “They said ‘We don’t want you to cook them medium rare’. I said ‘Look – we’ve got steak tartare on the menu. Raw meat. What’s the difference?’. But the thing is, when you’ve got my name, they’re all over you like a rash’.”
Oliver is a burger aficionado. Which is why he featured Yianni, from the MEATwagon, and the MEATliquor chain, in Jamie’s Britain on Channel 4. But Oliver wasn’t keen on the processed cheese that Yianni used to finish his burgers. “I got it, I got, I got it, and then there were a couple of little clangers at the end. The bread for a start, but that was a smaller clanger than the cheese. I get that it’s there to give a synthetic feeling to [the burger]. But the burger doesn’t taste synthetic. So why do it?”
Oliver’s series was a televisual study of multiculturalism and the ethnicity of modern British food. Sounds heavy – something for the Open University. But not when its done the Jamie Oliver way. “I loved going up to Brits and saying, ‘You know your fish and chips? Down the seafront – newspaper and a nice bit of cod? Well, you’ve got the Portuguese to thank for that. The chips come from the French. And the slice of apple pie? That’s down to the Egyptians. Aren’t we lucky? They’re all ours now.”
With the European Street Food Awards on our minds, we’ve gone all continental for the summer. It’s made us realise how well we’ve learnt from other cultures. It’s something that makes Oliver proud to be British. “Go to Italy, France or Spain,” he says, “and you won’t see a Greek restaurant next to a Turkish restaurant next to a Chinese, an Indian, a Japanese and a Moroccan. You won’t see waves of new immigrants doing their thing, like the banh mi sandwich people on London’s Whitecross Street. Never, never, never.”
While filming Jamie’s Britain, he was most excited by a Yemeni community, cooking with saffron and fennel seeds, who specialised in fermented batters and flavoured yoghurts. “But they were only 400 metres away from my restaurant in Cardiff” he says. And he found a new wave of British cooks that are starting to celebrate their Indian regionality, whether it’s Gujarat or Goa. “That is a reflection of the maturity of an immigrant group. Brilliant.”
As always, Oliver’s cooking tips are simple, and easy to remember – like the way he makes batter with a single cup of milk and a single cup of flour. No scales. And he presents the tips in the language we all use. When he makes a dressing to “pimp” his salad – “to spank it, and wake it up in the morning” – he comes across as a down-to-earth cheeky chappy who would be a lot of fun on a night out. For one of the world’s richest chefs, that’s quite an achievement.
And he is always respectful. He never confuses his passion with a need to shout, or put people down, even though he grew up in the heat of a kitchen. It wouldn’t fit with his celebration of food. “I don’t like chefs that go round shouting and swearing” he says. “If they treated my students like that they would get pans round their heads. You can’t do it. Working with kids that have had a difficult time, you can’t bully them because that’s all they’ve ever had. You’ve got to make it as fun as possible.”