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Jamie Oliver chats to Vibe about the changes at Jamie's Italian in Bluewater
THE NAKED Chef – if anyone still calls him that – is the celebrity chef of a generation.
In the 15 years since Essex boy Jamie Oliver first appeared on our screens, he has become as close to a national treasure as someone aged 38 can be.
The Bluewater branch of his Jamie’s Italian has been open a couple of years but has just had a change of direction to make it more suitable for its shopping centre home.
Vibe was invited to Bluewater to meet Jamie to talk about the changes.
If you have ever seen Jamie on TV, you probably have an idea of what he’s like. And he is like that, but more so.
He grins widely, happily poses for photos, calls people ‘big man’ while patting them on the back and talks enthusiastically.
So enthusiastically that our scheduled 15 minutes stretched to half and hour, and he continued for another half an hour after the recorder was switched off.
Explaining the changes to Jamie’s Italian at Bluewater, Jamie said: “I think what we have done at Bluewater is build it for this place, which we hadn’t done before.
Jamie memorabilia – including a scooter – and TV screens showing his programmes animate the walls in what he describes as his take on the Hard Rock Cafe ‘but for my funny little world’.
He has also personally re-written the menus for Bluewater, which now includes pizzas and burgers – with doughs, buns and patties all made on site.
Jamie said: “I write every single menu. I am over everything like a rash – sourcing products I am incredibly geeky about.”
Despite having so many interests, the chef said he doesn’t find it too difficult to stay hands on.
He said: “I believe I’m a bit odd. I’m a bit of a bubble person, I can go from one thing to another, close off and open up.
“I’m quite good at multi-tasking. If I can give myself any credit, I think I’m quite good at creating a nice culture at work and empowering people who are talented to be talented.”
It is also important for Jamie that is restaurants are run the right way, with freshness of prime importance.
He said: “I’m the only chef with a restaurant in the high street, others are all owned by companies, so keeping it fresh is the only thing that we have got that’s unique.
He added: “We just try to do everything right, really.
“Hopefully if you come to our restaurants they are young, dynamic, sassy boys and girls. We drill and train them about the products and where they come from.”
With restaurants, books, TV shows and campaigns to get people to eat better coming out of his ears, you might think Jamie would be looking to calm down. He wouldn’t hear of it.
He said: “I made a decision about seven years ago – do I disappear or semi-retire to the country and write a few books here and there and wallow in self-gratitude?
“I thought ‘I’m 32 years old, there’s a recession, I want to go all-in’. Since then, I have created 7,000 jobs in five years. That’s what I’m proud about.”
His latest TV and book project Money Saving Meals happened last minute, he said, because of demand from social media.
He said: “I didn’t plan to do it until mid January, that’s how quickly I turned it around.”
“For seven weeks we locked ourselves in a warehouse and cook, cook, cooked stuff.
“A lot of it had been written by Fanny Craddock and people over the years. A lot of it wasn’t new but my job was to update it and make it relevant.
“We have got things like banh mi, dim sum and bad-ass Korean dishes as well as fish pie and steak and chips.”
The response was amazing, Jamie said, although there were grumblings that the concept was a shade preachy.
“Whoever said that was a knob,” Jamie said.
“England is a funny old place. They say ‘Old Jamie Oliver, he’s worth hundreds of millions and he’s telling you how to save money’.
“Who would you rather trust – you or me?
“The average household wastes 40 per cent of everything they buy, that’s the average.
“What I was saying was if I treated my restaurants like people are treating their homes, we’d be bankrupt.”
He added: “I’m constantly being criticised. If I whine about young British kids not pulling their finger out it goes to all papers for a week and a half.
“But I kind of think people quite like me to be honest.
“I’m not even that controversial but I’m happy to be myself. I feel like I’m connected to the real world.
“It’s good fun, you just have to watch your back a bit.”
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