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Bri­tish chef Jamie Oliver is no stranger to con­tro­versy. He shares his opin­ion-split­ting views with us.

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

No sooner had Jamie Oliver’s lat­est cook­book hit the shops, than the star of the tele­vi­sion cook­ing pro­gramme Naked Chef went and said some­thing that whipped up a frenzy.

“Yeah, con­tro­versy,” he says, laugh­ing. “There’s al­ways a bit of that fol­low­ing me.” He’s re­fer­ring to his re­cent com­ments ac­cus­ing poor fam­i­lies of eat­ing noth­ing but junk food in his na­tive Bri­tain and spend­ing their money in­stead on huge TV sets.

But there are good things that fol­low him too. He has opened restau­rant chains in sev­eral parts of the world, in­clud­ing Jamie’s Ital­ian at Dubai Fes­ti­val City. The rus­tic Ital­ian fare has proved pop­u­lar with din­ers and plans are al­ready un­der way to open a sec­ond restau­rant at Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Ho­tel.

De­spite the furore over his com­ments on low-in­come fam­i­lies’ eat­ing habits and im­mi­grants work­ing harder in his kitchens than young Bri­tons, the chef ar­rives at his of­fices look­ing re­laxed, hav­ing just re­turned from a hol­i­day in Corn­wall. “We had sun, the beach, surf­ing, great Cor­nish food, the kids seemed happy. Jools seems happy, we are get­ting on well. We had a good week.”

Jamie, 38, and wife Jools, a de­signer and for­mer model with whom he has four chil­dren – Poppy, 11, Daisy Boo, 10, Petal, four, and two-yearold Buddy – have been to­gether 20 years. So what’s the se­cret to their happy mar­riage? “When you’re in the pub­lic eye, you an­noy peo­ple if you just say, ‘I’m re­ally happy and in love’,” he says. “What I’ve tried to do over the years is bal­ance it by say­ing, ‘We’re just nor­mal, we still ar­gue like nor­mal cou­ples’. Ac­tu­ally, what I never get the chance to say is, ‘I absolutely love and adore her. She can be a pain some­times but she’s pretty amaz­ing and a good per­son’.”

He says he doesn’t want more chil­dren, but that Jools def­i­nitely does. “You think I’m the boss at home?” he asks in­cred­u­lously. “I’d rather not have more chil­dren, be­cause I think we’ve got enough and trans­port­ing them down to Corn­wall was hard enough – with one more, we’ll have to get a proper, fully fledged minibus.”

Some re­grets

He re­turned from hol­i­day to a storm over his re­marks about mod­ern­day poverty and work-shy Bri­tish youths, and says he now re­grets the com­ments. “I guess I should have known bet­ter be­cause, more than most peo­ple, I pride my­self on be­ing in­volved, get­ting my hands dirty and see­ing both sides of the coin,” he says.

“The reaction is re­ally di­vided. For the peo­ple who think I’m be­ing pa­tro­n­is­ing, rude or of­fen­sive, of course I apol­o­gise. At the same time, I prob­a­bly said it be­cause of my con­tin­ued pas­sion that the knowl­edge of how to cook is with­out ques­tion the big­gest lux­ury now.

“It’s about pri­or­i­ties. And pri­or­i­ties of any class – how you feed your­self and your chil­dren – is a mas­sive sub­ject right now.”

His lat­est cook­book, Save With Jamie, he ex­plains, is in re­sponse to the grow­ing frus­tra­tion of peo­ple who feel their su­per­mar­ket bills have soared, and who want to make their food go fur­ther. “Peo­ple just want af­ford­able, tasty food. They’re caught

be­tween, ‘Do I go out for a take­away or do I save money?’”

For the book, he wanted to de­vise dishes that were ei­ther a third or half the price of a take­away. The re­sult is meals that cost an aver­age of £1.32 (about Dh7.60) a por­tion.

If peo­ple can’t af­ford the cover price of £26, he and his pub­lisher, in part­ner­ship with The Read­ing Agency, have do­nated a copy of his new cook­book to li­braries in the UK.

A les­son in true pas­sion

There’s some­thing gen­uine about Jamie’s pas­sion and at­ti­tude. Over the years he’s had his fin­gers in a lot of pies – cam­paign­ing to im­prove school din­ners, plac­ing dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple in his string of Fif­teen restau­rants, pre­par­ing lunch for Tony Blair, then prime min­is­ter of Bri­tain, found­ing the Jamie Oliver Food Foun­da­tion char­ity and cre­at­ing Jamie’s Min­istry of Food, a net­work of cen­tres that aims to teach peo­ple about food and nu­tri­tion. And, of course, there have been count­less TV shows – in­clud­ing his lat­est, Jamie’s Money Sav­ing Meals – all with the aim of re­con­nect­ing us with food and teach­ing us how to cook tasty, nu­tri­tious meals. Jamie and his fam­ily don’t re­ally do take­aways. “We’ve prob­a­bly had two this year. How­ever, I’m not anti-fast food. But when it be­comes a so­lu­tion three or four nights a week, then we’ve got a prob­lem.” The Es­sex-born chef, who be­gan hon­ing his cook­ing skills in his par­ents’ pub as a boy, may now be worth an es­ti­mated £150 mil­lion, but his end­less en­ergy surely comes from a gen­uine pas­sion and se­ri­ous work ethic.

He doesn’t have time to watch many food shows, but is hooked on The Great Bri­tish Bake Off. “I love Mary [Berry] and Paul [Hol­ly­wood]. My whole fam­ily watches it.”

His com­ments in Good House­keep­ing that Euro­pean im­mi­grants are “stronger” and “tougher” than their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts who tend to “whinge” about too-long hours, again prompted a mixed reaction. “I wasn’t gen­er­al­is­ing, It was re­ally about chefs. There are far too many boys com­ing into the in­dus­try who think they’re ex­hausted af­ter 44 hours.

“Our kitchens are hard work. The aver­age was 70-100 hours when I was in there. It’s a tough in­dus­try. It’s about re­lent­less­ness grunt and sweat.

“But there’s some­thing to be proud of when your feet hurt, you’ve achieved a day’s work and you’ve pro­gressed. We’ve got to toughen up a bit.”

So how can Bri­tish youths learn a bet­ter work ethic? “To be hon­est, I think mums and dads have got to kick them, fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing.”

Jamie says bal­anc­ing his work­load with fam­ily life is dif­fi­cult. He spends more time at home th­ese days – but main­tain­ing his suc­cess and be­ing the per­fect fam­ily man was never go­ing to be easy...

“I have very spe­cific time off for hol­i­days and very spe­cific days off. I try and stick to it 98 per cent.

“I largely work with ladies and a pro­por­tion of them have kids. Hav­ing a tight, great team, we all want to get that bal­ance be­tween work­ing hard, be­ing creative, and hav­ing time for your­self and your fam­ily. For me, the fu­ture is about be­ing pos­i­tive and try­ing to keep lift­ing the bar.”

Save With Jamie shows you don’t need a mas­sive bud­get to make de­li­cious food

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