Return of Then Naked Chef

All about Jamie

Jamie gives us the lowdown on his cooking gaffs, his top five desert island cooking essentials and what the future holds.

The early years
Penguin: Where did you grow up?
Jamie: I grew up in Clavering, Essex in a pub with a restaurant attached. My old man was one of the first food gurus that actually brought really good food to pubs. I grew up with seven chefs, using local ingredients and I suppose because I grew up with food from such an early age, food became natural to me. It's just like breathing really, that's the way I think of food, it's not an effort at all to make things up.
Penguin: When did you realise you wanted to cook?
Jamie: I really decided to cook when I was about 15, for two reasons. The first reason was I really loved it and found it very natural. It was very easy for me to do, to think about it, to touch it, I loved it to bits. The second reason was my exam results from school were terrible, it was all C's, E's and F's. So I thought 'Oh no, what am I good at?' I decided to go to catering college in London, then studied in France. When I came back I worked for Antonio Carluccio and The River Café in London.
In the kitchen
Penguin: What would you say to people who are just starting to cook?
Jamie: It doesn't matter how young you are, you can get cracking. The good thing is when you learn to cook you will never ever forget it, even when you're seventy and you make the perfect omelette. Everyone loves to be pampered. To go round to someone's house at the end of the day and find a delicious meal waiting for you, well, it has to be a turn on! I think cooking's pretty essential for a good life these days.

A lot of people say you need a lot of money to be able to cook well, that you need all the knives, all the pans, all the machines, and really posh ingredients. It's absolute rubbish. If you look at the best cooking in the world it's all peasant cooking, Italian, Spanish, Indian peasant cooking. All those lovely second class bits of meat and stews using leftover ingredients. You certainly don't need money, just a bit of common sense, a couple of trusty pans, a sharp knife and preferably an oven!.
Penguin: Have you ever made any mistakes?
Jamie: I've made loads of mistakes in the kitchen, I think everyone makes mistakes every day. One of the worst things I did was when I was working at the River Café. The sous-chef had been making this broth all day for a fish stew.

When it came to seven o'clock we had to clear all the pots off for service. At seven we also used to blanch all our greens so we cooked at the last minute. We had all this dirty blanching water, sort of green, and I chucked his broth down the sink. When it came to seven thirty and we got the first cheque on, he was like "Where's my broth, where's my broth?"

I made it even worse by saying "Well it didn't look like broth, it looked like dirty blanching water." I got the hiding of my life after that. He called me every name under the sun and reminded me of it for the next four months. Nightmare.
Penguin: Where do you get your ideas?
Jamie: It's not like any other job really. I pick things up every day, you learn from wise and wonderful people and also really young people that have just started in the kitchen. You can learn from books, conversations, even your mother. I feel I'm also learning from the public. I get one hundred letters a week saying what they do or don't like about stuff and you get a really good sense of what you should be doing.
Penguin: What are the five things you would take to cook with on a desert island?
Jamie: 1. A nice sharp knife
2. A good pan
3. A load of spices which I'd plant so I could have them fresh
4. A lifetime supply of extra virgin olive oil
5. A fishing rod so I could catch my own fish
The books
Penguin: Why do you think your books have sold so well?
Jamie: No one's been more amazed than me. I suppose it was good timing, someone young, someone genuinely excited about food. I think because I was quite young and did look like the boy-next-door, the public really reacted to it.
Penguin: Who does the photography for your books?
Jamie: David Loftus and I are quite unconventional food shooters really. When I came into the business there were all these food stylists who would brush things with oils and colour and everyone was using loads of light. It's really nice to work with Dave because I just cook the food and he just takes the picture, using only natural light. I personally think the shots of my food in the books are some of the best food shots in the world. At the end of the day I just want people to see it and want to eat it, read that recipe and actually cook the thing.
Jools Oliver
Penguin: When did you meet Jools?
Jamie: I met Jools when I was about 16 years old and thought she was quite tasty. I fancied her for quite a while and ended up pulling her (obviously because of the cooking, what else?). We were going out for seven years and got married last year and we've been very, very happy. I don't think I could have done it all without a really sturdy relationship and home and family and friends.
Penguin: How does she support you?
Jamie: Jools is quite easy-going and level-headed. Nothing really impresses her, which is quite frustrating as a bloke! It's a good grounding for me and she's been there from day one. I think when you're going from place to place it's quite easy to have people latch onto you and love you, saying you're great when in fact they just think you're famous. Jools thinks it's quite important to keep it real.
Penguin: Does she cook?
Jamie: Jools just started cooking about eight months ago and she's really good actually. It's taken a while, for the last eight years I've been coming home to a fridge full of pre-packed food, but she's turned into a fine, gutsy little cook.
The future Life is really, really busy. I'm out at seven or eight in the morning every day and back at one or two in the morning. The thing is if you do something you enjoy you don't really care how hard you work. I go a bit mad on food really, I dream about it! The other day I woke up to my wife bashing me, telling me to shut up because I was talking about onions. That's what I call dirty dreams!

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