Jamie Oliver, famed for “The “Naked Chef,” “Jamie’s School Dinners,” “Jamie’s American Food Revolution” and other television shows, is away from the cameras today and his stamina shows no sign of flagging.
He’s in the kitchen of Barbecoa, the restaurant he plans to open in the City of London next week, with Adam Perry Lang, 41, owner of Daisy May’s in New York. Energy bounces between the two chefs as they show off the grills, pits and ovens with which they are bringing the best of barbecue to the U.K.
“This is the closest I’ve come to an affair in the past decade,” Oliver says as he describes the friendship he’s developed with Perry Lang, who has moved his family to England to work on Barbecoa with Oliver. Both men smile constantly on a tour of the kitchen.
Oliver, 35, the father of four children and of more books, TV shows and restaurants than you can easily count without a calculator, says he’s taking a step back from his other work commitments in order to concentrate on Barbecoa. An early version of the menu features starters such as pork baby back ribs with crunchy apple and charred hot wings; and mains including dry-aged rib-eye, pulled pork shoulder, lamb skewer and beer-can chicken, a dish for two.
View of St. Paul’s
“Mate, the last week’s the happiest that I’ve been professionally,” Oliver says. “Quite a lot of the stuff that you might think I enjoy is really a means to an end. I went into the business to cook, not to be a millionaire or a celebrity chef. I’m not fighting the celebrity-chef thing because I know they always do, but I totally know what my job is.”
The restaurant, in the One New Change development, offers a clear view of St. Paul’s cathedral. The interior -- by Design Research Studio under Tom Dixon -- features an open kitchen. The lines are clean, there’s a high ceiling and the main material on view is wood. It’s handsome and it seats almost 200.
How nervous is he about opening a large venue now, and what sort of reception does Oliver -- who also owns founded Fifteen and the Jamie’s Italian chain -- expect from City workers?
“It’s not so much what do I expect from them,” he says. “All I know is it’s a lot of pressure, really. City boys come in all different shapes and sizes. They haven’t all got big wallets any more but they are busy boys or girls, so speed’s going to be an issue at lunch: glamour, something new, authenticity, value -- even for City boys.
“One of my City-boy friends the other day was very upset because a wine budget had been put in place. I said, ‘What’s that?’ They said, ‘50 quid ($79).’ And I went, ‘Well you can still get a few nice bottles of wine for 50 quid.’ And he goes, ‘No, 50 quid per bottle.’ And I’m like, ‘Jesus, what planet have you been living on for the last decade?’
“I’m as nervous as someone who’s spent 3 million quid in a recession would be. I’m nervous to see it busy. It needs to be busy because if it’s not, it won’t last a month.”
Why barbecue now? What’s the attraction?
“The word barbecue is very misused in England,” he says. “English people, to be honest, don’t understand what barbecuing is, probably 99 percent of the whole population, and that sounds very patronizing and I don’t really care. Barbecue, properly done, is something that we don’t do here, so it’s been nice to bring it to the City.”
Any chance of a TV show on the restaurant, which is scheduled to open on the evening of Nov. 5?
“There’s lots of stuff to be gleaned from what’s going on in here but probably not,” he says. “It will be nice to keep the bloody cameras out, to be honest with you.”
Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG. Tel. +44-20-3005-8555 or click on http://www.barbecoa.com/.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)