Chef Jamie Oliver is a man after our own hearts at Woman’s Weekly, thanks to his mission to stop food waste and change people’s eating habits
Thanks to his many restaurants, TV shows and cookbooks that fly off the shelves, Jamie Oliver is a rich man. But when the super-chef is making meals for his wife, Jools, and their five children, he behaves more like a cook on a budget. He uses up every bit of food and then starts getting creative with the leftovers.
‘I just hate b **** y waste,’ says Jamie in his typically forthright way, when we meet to chat about his latest book and TV show about quick and easy five-ingredient meals.
Friendly and chatty, Jamie tells funny stories about his life at home and feeding his kids. He also brings us up to date on his school dinners campaign and is full of ideas about how to avoid throwing out food.
‘Wasting food just makes me feel bad and wrong – about 40% of the food people buy is wasted,’ says Jamie, 42. ‘I think leftovers are a cook’s biggest gift, because they give you a head start on your next meal.’
Jamie rattles off examples of how he uses leftovers at home. For example, he’ll boil up a whole bag of new potatoes even if he only needs a small portion. ‘Then I’ll have new potatoes in the fridge waiting, and I can fry them up and have them hot, or dress them and have them cold.’ If he makes bread on a Saturday, he’ll make extra dough to freeze for pizza bases.
‘Instead of cooking for that meal only, always cook for another,’ he says, warming to his theme. ‘And make your freezer your best friend. If I make a stew, I wouldn’t make it for four, but for eight or 10 and put the rest in a Ziploc bag, label it with a Sharpie and stick it in the freezer. Lay it flat to freeze, then line all the bags up like a Penguin Books library of ready meals, sauces and sides. Everything can be frozen!’
At his North London home, Jamie’s pride and joy is his chest freezer (‘I know that sounds geeky, but it’s true,’ he says), which helps him and Jools save time when feeding their children – Poppy, 15, Daisy, 14, Petal, eight, Buddy, seven, and one-year-old River.
‘Jools uses it to feed the baby,’ he explains. ‘I make food for
him with no salt and freeze it in ice-cube trays – some of it chunky, some of it smooth – and she can whip out a smorgasboard of flavours and textures when she needs to.
‘Basically, my advice is: “Every time you cook, make it count.” And that way you’ll also have less food waste.’
Nobody knows that better than Jamie, who is as busy as ever, with his business empire on one hand and hectic home life on the other. Mealtime for a large family can be ‘colourful and a bit on the edge,’ chuckles Jamie, explaining that the wide range of ages between his kids means they often want different meals and sometimes refuse to eat a particular dish.
‘Usually somebody’s crying, or tells me they don’t like something they’ve spent the last month eating,’ he sighs. Often he won’t relent when they are being difficult, but he admits for an easy life he’ll sometimes grab something from the freezer to tempt a reluctant eater. ‘You need different ideas and strategies,’ he says. ‘Anarchy could be 30 seconds away.’
Of course, Jamie’s kids eat very healthily, and he has been vocal for more than a decade about feeding the nation’s children well, too. After launching his school dinners campaign in 2005, Jamie was thrilled when David Cameron’s government instituted free school meals for all infant pupils in 2014 – and was furious when the Conservative manifesto announced plans to scrap the plan and replace it with free breakfasts for children up to the age of 11 instead. However, the party reversed this decision after the election.
Jamie, who sees it as a temporary victory, has some choice words about the current government’s possible lack of commitment to the lunch plan. ‘Whoever is running the country is entrusted with child health,’ he says. ‘I know they’ve got a lot to worry about, but if you get child health right, you can get everything else right – the diseases that cost the NHS so much money, like diabetes and obesity, start in childhood. I’ll keep bleating on about it.’ We expect nothing less.
Certainly the recipes in Jamie’s new book, 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food, are delicious-looking meals to tempt even the most reluctant cook. ‘Embarrassingly, it’s taken me 20 years to write this book – I should have done it ages ago!’ he says with a laugh. ‘What could be simpler? It’s calm, confidence-boosting and straightforward. Don’t have a takeaway – cook instead. You probably have a lot of the ingredients at home already.’
In person, Jamie is easy to like – thoughtful, funny and a bundle of energy. On top of that, his campaigns to get us all cooking from scratch and improve children’s health have made him a national treasure. He was awarded an MBE in 2003 for services to hospitality and it seems natural (to us) that a knighthood will follow.
‘Only if I deserve one,’ Jamie replies. ‘I got an MBE too early – I don’t know if I deserved it, although I’m not knocking them for giving it to me. I’ve done so much more since then. Maybe see what I manage in the next 10 years.’ Sir Jamie Oliver? We can definitely see it.
Jamie’s Quick & Easy Food is on Mondays at 8pm on Channel 4.
5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver (£26, Michael Joseph/Penguin) is out now
‘I got an MBE too early. I’ve done much more since then’
Jamie and Jools have been married for 17 years
Jamie has campaigned for schools to provide healthier meals since 2005
Jamie and Jools oliver with their children (from left) Daisy, Petal, river, Buddy and Poppy