It’s hard out there for a chef

National Post (National Edition) - - THE FEAST - Cas­san­dra szklarski

TORONTO • The old adage is that you can’t please ev­ery­one, but Jamie Oliver in­sists on try­ing. The Bri­tish celebrity chef says his life would prob­a­bly be eas­ier if he had launched a chain of ex­clu­sive, high-end eater­ies.

In­stead, the TV star chose a tough route in pur­su­ing an empire of fam­ily-friendly restau­rants that fea­ture or­ganic menus. His two Cana­dian restau­rants, Jamie’s Ital­ian, are both in large Toronto shop­ping malls that cater to a mass clien­tele of tourists, shop­pers and fam­i­lies.

“I could have opened a restau­rant that was 30, 40 (din­ers), very ex­pen­sive, very high-end and I guess you could say (elit­ist),” Oliver says in a re­cent phone in­ter­view from Lon­don.

“I know my life would be eas­ier that way and you could throw the one-lin­ers around like how great it is, but I think the chal­lenge of overde­liv­er­ing at mass mar­ket in the kind of price cat­e­gory where most can af­ford it, that was def­i­nitely my in­ten­tion. I think that mid-mar­ket area is a re­ally in­ter­est­ing one.”

The com­ments fol­low re­ports that Oliver’s global restau­rant chain has been hem­or­rhag­ing cash as it grap­ples with debt and dwin­dling re­serves. Mean­while, there have been neg­a­tive re­views and crit­i­cal press — most no­tably in his na­tive Bri­tain.

Oliver notes his au­di­ence is “quite wide, from old-age pen­sion­ers to teenagers,” re­sult­ing in a broad menu that he ad­mits has in­cluded con­ces­sions, in­clud­ing a sep­a­rate kids menu. The long­time healthy eat­ing ad­vo­cate says he’s gen­er­ally op­posed to the prac­tice of kid-themed meals but notes “the pub­lic wants them.”

“Would I have done it dif­fer­ently if I started all over again? I just don’t know,” he says.

“The ques­tion is: What is the cor­rect cock­tail and can you please ev­ery­one? And the an­swer is: I don’t know what the cor­rect cock­tail is but we def­i­nitely try, and ‘have you got it right?’ is al­ways a mov­ing tar­get and sub­jec­tive. But if you go into York­dale or any of those (malls), they’re beau­ti­ful big rooms with gor­geous fit­tings and a cou­ple mil­lion dol­lars spent putting ex­pen­sive tiles down and lovely chan­de­liers. There’s like 110 peo­ple that work in there that are pretty pas­sion­ate about sim­ple com­fort food.”

“My job’s al­ways a lit­tle bit like me­di­a­tor and trans­la­tor — not as in lan­guage per se, but I need to write recipes that are mod­ern con­tem­po­rary recipes that stand up in Canada and Bri­tain now and don’t re­quire you to get some­thing that you can’t get hold of,” he says.

VALERY HACHE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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