Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver in­vites Es­sex Life on a vir­tual drive around the county as he shares with Chloe Go­van his nos­tal­gic fam­ily his­tory plus his favourite spots to wine and dine in the county

Essex Life - - CONTENTS -

His culi­nary tour of the county he loves

Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef, best-sell­ing au­thor, TV star, British house­hold name and Es­sex boy. Home for Jamie, just a few decades ear­lier, was bound­ing around his par­ents' coun­try pub in Claver­ing putting his en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm to good use, help­ing them keep the pun­ters happy and the pub clean.

Born in Leigh on Sea in 1975, not long after Jamie's ar­rival, the Oliver fam­ily re­lo­cated to Claver­ing – per­haps one of the most un­der-rated Es­sex beauty spots around. In this sleepy vil­lage barely a stone's throw from Saf­fron Walden, his par­ents Trevor and Sally set up the now renowned pub and B&B, The Crick­eters.

His fa­ther, while ‘very lov­ing’, was also a fear­some dis­ci­plinar­ian with whom he dared not dis­agree. Con­se­quently Jamie spent parts of his child­hood per­form­ing var­i­ous unglam­orous clean­ing du­ties.

As he grew older, the tasks be­came a lit­tle less grue­some and by the time he was seven, he was armed with a chef's knife to pre­pare dishes.

‘I could chop like a bitch!’ he proudly en­thuses, and by the age of ten, Jamie was pulling pints for the cus­tomers. Al­ready in­dis­pens­able in the pub, he fared less favourably at school.

Jamie and his farmer friend Jimmy Do­herty were the only two in their school year in the spe­cial needs class. Each les­son time, mis­chievous mates would ser­e­nade the pair with a cho­rus of, ‘Spe­cial needs, spe­cial needs’ to the tune of the Bea­tles song Let It Be. Jamie pre­ferred art, cook­ing and gar­den­ing over academia.

Jamie was clearly a ‘touchy feely’ type at heart, al­though, amus­ingly, his pen­chant for rough­ing it in the great out­doors would lead him into trou­ble in later life. When wife Jools started to spot green stains on his knees, she as­sumed the worst – that he'd been se­cretly for­ni­cat­ing in a foot­ball field some­where. Yet Jamie tells a dif­fer­ent story. A pic­ture of wide-eyed in­no­cence, he would counter, ‘I was tend­ing to the cour­gettes on the veg­etable patch!’

At 16, Jamie left school with two GCSEs and trans­ferred to cater­ing col­lege in the cap­i­tal. ‘I'm get­ting away,’ he had de­clared de­fi­antly. ‘I'm go­ing to Lon­don where the best chefs in the coun­try are!’

How­ever, while he as­pired to learn from the greats, he grad­u­ally re­alised that it was the fresh home-cook­ing his par­ents had pro­vided that he re­garded the best around. It wasn't long be­fore he re­turned to Es­sex, where the up­ward spi­ral of his ca­reer would be­gin.

Es­sex is a county of culi­nary in­spi­ra­tions for Jamie and, like a modern day Ghost of Christ­mases Past, he in­vites us to step back in time for a snap­shot on the places he re­gards as so spe­cial.

Jamie is renowned for be­ing highly se­lec­tive and dis­cern­ing

— he has turned down lu­cra­tive ad­ver­tis­ing deals with the likes of ‘junk drink’ gi­ants Coca Cola, an am­bas­sador­ship with Tony Blair and even a din­ner in­vite from for­mer US pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, who he claims had a ‘dis­re­spect­ful at­ti­tude to food’. With this in mind, it's guar­an­teed that Jamie's rec­om­men­da­tions for win­ing and din­ing in Es­sex will in­clude only the best.

The jour­ney be­gins back at his birth­place in Leigh on Sea. ‘Be­sides me,’ Jamie jokes, ‘Leigh is also fa­mous for its cock­les. Visit the cockle sheds for an amuse bouche of old-school Cock­ney fare – lo­cal cock­les, win­kles, crabs, shrimp and smoked salmon, served with bril­liantly bog-stan­dard but gen­er­ously but­tered white bread.’

These were the sta­ples of Jamie's child­hood pic­nics by the sea. ‘It's a re­ally homely place,’ he con­tin­ues, ‘with a hand­ful of proper pubs where you can get a pint be­fore buy­ing your seafood and a bag of hot chips to sit in the sun with.’

Barely a ten minute drive fur­ther east is the bustling sea­side town of Southend, where Jamie's pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents also ran a pub.

Re­stock­ing bot­tles for them would earn him a cou­ple of pounds to spend on ar­cade games on the seafront, a favourite pas­time that has now been passed on to his chil­dren.

‘It's a vi­brantly spir­ited town,’ he de­clares with pas­sion. ‘It's gone through some highs and lows in its time, but has now be­come a bril­liant fam­ily des­ti­na­tion for some gaudy, retro fun. With its ar­cade games, fish 'n' chips and Rossi ice cream, my kids al­ways love it!’

Fur­ther north is ‘old school’ Mersea Is­land, where Jamie has of­ten en­joyed the ‘amaz­ing wildlife and some of the best seafood along the coast’.

‘It's a beau­ti­ful cor­ner of Es­sex,’ Jamie rem­i­nisces. ‘When you're there, have lunch at The Com­pany Shed, a gruff, rick­ety restau­rant which looks a bit like a weather-beaten shack, but sells the fresh­est, most beau­ti­ful fish around.

‘Just a five minute walk and you'll come to the West Mersea Oyster Bar for more de­li­cious Colch­ester Na­tives

– in sea­son from Septem­ber to April,’ he en­thuses. Jamie's rec­om­men­da­tion from the menu? ‘Try the Dover sole with shrimp but­ter if it's on – sim­ply de­li­cious!’

An­other worth­while stop-off is the mar­ket town of Great Dun­mow, where, at the ten­der age of 16, Jamie did his first ever stint of work ex­pe­ri­ence at The Starr restau­rant. The drive con­tin­ues past the, ‘colour­ful lit­tle town of Thaxted’ and onto the, ‘choco­late box vil­lage of Arkes­den’.

‘I love its old thatched houses, lit­tle wind­ing river and my lo­cal pub, the Axe and Com­passes,’ Jamie re­veals. ‘Run by the Chris­tou fam­ily, they're still do­ing a great job, serv­ing tasty food and beer.’

Fi­nally, we come full cir­cle as we ar­rive back at the vil­lage where Jamie grew up, and where he and wife Jools share a week­end home to this day.

‘Our last stop is in Claver­ing – my par­ent's pub, The Crick­eters,’ he con­cludes.

‘My dear mum and dad have been run­ning this lovely old place

for the past 40 years and, while it's still a real lo­cals' pub, peo­ple come from all over Es­sex for a meal and a pint.’

They are at­tracted, of course, by the dis­tinc­tive Oliver brand name, but the veg­eta­bles on the pub's menu come di­rect from Jamie's mon­u­men­tal gar­den, while fresh sup­plies of duck, pork and beef are all re­as­sur­ingly lo­cal too. To this day, Jamie is still per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for sourc­ing olives and char­cu­terie for his fa­ther. It's no sur­prise then, that Jamie as­sures us the food is ‘con­sis­tently good’.

‘The chefs love to mix it up a bit,’ he con­fides, ‘from fresh sour­dough breads that my dad makes ev­ery morn­ing to epic mains and ridicu­lously good desserts.’

As he con­cludes his whirl­wind tour of his home county, Jamie’s pas­sion for Es­sex is clear, as is his call to ac­tion!

Fel­low res­i­dents of Es­sex, slide your keys into the ig­ni­tion and pre­pare to fol­low in Jamie's foot­steps on your own fam­ily trips, search­ing for the best culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences around. They are around the cor­ner in Es­sex.

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LEFT: Seafood from Mersea Is­land

ABOVE: Jamie Oliver

LEFT:The Com­pany Shed on Mersea Is­land

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