Torun a on CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO JAMIE OLIVER, THE FESTIVE SEASON DELIVERS OUR MOST VIVID FOOD MEMORIES – ESPECIALLY WHEN A RELATIVE’S HAIR CATCHES ON FIRE
It’s not so much that Jamie Oliver doesn’t suffer fools, it’s just that he’s come up with very effective strategies for dealing with them – especially at Christmas. “You need to review who’s coming for the occasion,” is his advice. “Sketch out any sort of liabilities; there’s always one.”
Oliver reveals that it’s he, rather than wife Jools, who’s in charge of the festive meal, which usually involves an influx of family and friends to his house. The chef admits that with a long guest list and an ever-expanding brood – he and Jools welcomed their fifth child, son River Rocket, into the family this year – he doesn’t do all of the cooking.
“I delegate a few bits and pieces at Christmas,” he says, but adds that there are always those who can’t be assigned complicated culinary tasks.
“Normally most people have one slightly gompy brother coming. I look at who’s coming and think, ‘Right, they can’t cook, their common sense is low, so I’m going to give them a specific brand of whiskey and port and get them to buy that. How can they get that wrong?’
“Andy the Gasman is my version of that,” he says of a childhood friend, who’s still in Oliver’s inner circle. “You know, absolutely can’t be trusted for anything other than following a text.”
Speaking to Stellar on the phone from his home in the UK, it’s a rare day off for the culinary juggernaut. Although technically not on the clock, he’s still busy running his global empire from the house he shares with his large family.
“I’m at home today; it doesn’t happen often,” he says. “The kids are on holidays, so I’ll be doing a bit of work from home.”
The chef and bestselling author – he’s sold more than 37 million books worldwide – has recently published Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook, which, while offering his take on seasonal classics, also primes readers to embrace the possibility of a festive calamity.
In the dedication he pays tribute to his late nan and recounts the Christmas meal when her paper crown caught on fire as she was reaching for some stuffing, setting her hair alight before the flames were eventually extinguished by Oliver’s father.
“When you think about your most vivid food memory, it’s pretty much got to be Christmas. When my poor nan became a human candle and got all roughed up by my dad to put her out, for a five-year-old boy, that was quite traumatic,” he says with a laugh.
wished he hadn’t made the comments, Oliver may have had a point. His net worth is estimated to be more than $400 million, while Ramsay’s is thought to be closer to $200 million. While neither chef is in danger of crying poor, it’s easy to see why Oliver called out the root of their rivalry as envy.
And behind Oliver’s laid-back banter, it’s clear a sharp business acumen has helped build that lucrative empire which takes in revenue from books, a magazine, the production company that creates his TV shows, smartphone apps and restaurants around the world, including Australia.
If you were in any doubt about how he runs his global business, the fate of Jamie’s Italian restaurants here is quite illustrative. When it was announced in June this year that the hospitality company that owned the local franchise rights, Keystone Group, had been placed into receivership, Oliver was reported to be furious. He was said to be particularly incensed that the six Australian eateries under his name – which were still very popular with diners, had always turned a profit and were some of his best performing restaurants worldwide – were part of the Keystone collapse and would be put on the market by the receivers. Oliver clearly didn’t enjoy his name being associated with Keystone’s failure.
News came early in November that the Jamie Oliver Group had been nominated the preferred bidder and would be buying back the local franchise for Jamie’s Italian restaurants, in a move that ensured Oliver could keep a closer eye on his restaurants’ operations in Australia. Local staff are also said to be delighted with the sale, as it means their new boss is one of the most well-known chefs in the world. A statement announcing the purchase reiterated that Keystone going into receivership “was in no way a reflection on the performance or success” of Oliver’s restaurants.
But no matter how much fame and prosperity Oliver has achieved in his 17-year career, his family provide the ultimate reality check – particularly at Christmas.
“I constantly tell my kids that I’m cool, and they look at me as if they’ve smelt something really bad and they just don’t buy it in the slightest. Like every other dad on the planet, I have the same issues with trying to just let them know that I’m funny, I’m cool; I haven’t been able to legitimately land any of that yet,” he says.
And while his family’s festive rituals include Oliver having a nap in the afternoon, for the chef the best part of the day naturally comes back to their yuletide lunch.
“I think it’s really nice if everyone does a little bit, then everyone’s really proud of the whole thing. Obviously back at the ranch, I’m holding the whole thing together with the meat, vegies, potatoes, gravy and all that malarkey. Before you worry about everything, you get your meat, potatoes and gravy down. If they’re gorgeous, then everything else is just propping it up, really. And Jools does the table and makes it all look pretty.
“The perfect Christmas is that balance between enough stuff that you’re really comfortable with, but then a few surprises. Everyone’s got their rhythm and their pattern; when the time comes we all sit in the same place. Why? I don’t know, we never agreed to it. There are these other little things; I normally end up in front of the fire asleep, generally with Only Fools And Horses in the background. That seems to happen every year, somehow. But these days I get woken up by Buddy jumping from a great height onto me, which is not agreeable. It’s a new tradition, and it’s only happened for the past two or three years. All I’m gonna say is what goes around, comes around.”
Jamie Oliver’s Christmas