It’s hard out there for a chef
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.