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Jamie Oliver Starts Food Revolution With Hug for London

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver is opening a Jamie's Italian in Hong Kong. The British chef now has restaurants from London to Sydney. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Jamie Oliver has sold more than 30 million cook books, starred in television shows around the world and owns more than 30 restaurants, from London to Sydney.

Today, he’s holding Food Revolution Day, an international celebration bringing together communities to share cooking skills and focus on healthy eating. In London, there’s a street festival. In New York, there’s a mobile farm and kids’ events.

If Oliver, 38, is feeling smug about all he has achieved since being discovered by a TV production company while working as a young chef in 1995, it doesn’t show. He’s still full of charm as he runs though plans for Food Revolution Day.

“There is a disparate dream from different people, from Sierra Leone to Israel to South Africa to England, America, Australia,” he says. “They’re all passionate about passing on skills.”

The idea is to encourage good cooking and less junk food. This is the second Food Revolution Day. Last year’s involved more than 1,000 events in 664 cities across 62 countries, according to the official website. This time, it will be bigger, the organizers say.

Oliver also wants to share the love with a whole new group: The community of the City of London financial district.

His first brush with the City crowd was when he opened Barbecoa in 2010 and it’s the group he wants to attract to nearby Fifteen, which has celebrated its 10th anniversary with a new look, a new chef, a new bar, a new menu and a new attitude.

Barbecoa Clients

“I’ve got to know the City more through Barbecoa and they’re a very important part of our client base and I’m getting to know them,” Oliver says in an interview at Fifteen. “It’s men in suits but you’ve got to get under the skin of that more: What do they want, what speed do they want it, how can we look after them more? They all want different things and we want them back.

“Here in Fifteen, we’re so close. But what happened in the early days is we became so famous so fast and I was so young and naive that I was actually proud of being booked out six months in advance. That ain’t good for a City boy.

“That’s not convenient. So just the way we manage bookings, being able to just walk up and always get looked after, we’ve got eating at the bars, bar snacks. They are divine and also changing daily and they’re naughty as well.

“My biggest dream for Fifteen for the next 10 years is being relevant locally and we really want to work with the City, and City workers are really important to restaurants. Those boys -- I say boys, that sounds a bit sexist -- the boys and girls, they’re very loyal to their restaurants. They’re going to love it here. It’s a nice place to be.”

Maturing View

I’ve interviewed Oliver a few times over the years and he has never changed: The enthusiasm you see on television is there. But he says he has matured as his business has grown.

“I’m not like a ducking-and-diving little puckered up 24-year-old anymore,” he says. “I’m a 38-year-old dad of four and I want to come to my restaurant and feel really hugged and comfortable. Ten years on, I feel settled and confident, not in a smug way but in a weathered way.

“If you look back five years to when we started Jamie’s Italian, recession hit. Do you remember? It hit like that. I remember one week and I’d signed for three leases and whatever you think, I’m not like Richard Branson: It was everything for me. I was so scared that I had ruined everything. Now we have 31 restaurants, nearly 600,000 meals a month.”

Party Chefs

Oliver isn’t only popular with home cooks. Among the chefs who showed up for a party at Fifteen this week were Fergus Henderson (St. John), Philip Howard (The Square), Bruno Loubet (Bistrot Bruno Loubet) and Jun Tanaka (ex-Pearl). These are some of London’s culinary stars and Oliver returns the compliment.

“London is dynamic and buzzing and you’ve got the old boys -- not old in age but the ones who’ve been around -- like Eric Chavot and Bruno Loubet who are the best working chefs in this city doing their own thing. Bruno’s about to open up in King’s Cross and I can’t wait to go there. Eric’s just done the thing he’s dreamt of for years. He’s amazing. Then you’ve got young whippersnappers popping up. It’s exciting.”

He should know. In addition to Jamie’s Italian, Union Jacks and other restaurant businesses, Oliver has opened a temporary diner on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue with chef Arthur Potts Dawson.

Food Revolution Day:

Fifteen: or +44-20-3375-1515.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on London weekend, Farah Nayeri on film, Lewis Lapham on history, Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.

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