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Starkoch im Interview Jamie Oliver: Just fuckin' eat it!

"The Naked Chef" machte ihn weltberühmt. Im Interview spricht Starkoch Jamie Oliver über gutes Essen, Schulernährung und Kantinen - ein Original.

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Starkoch Jamie Oliver

Mr. Oliver, today I would like to concentrate on...

Business? (lacht scheckig)

No, not at all. But on entertainment and food. What do they have in common?

Obviously the history of going out for a show and then go for dinner is there – well, everyone does it – also in London. But never, ever have I seen a theatrical show and food come together as one.

Is there nothing like the German Shows as „Pomp Duck and Circumstance“ or „Palazzo“ where Entertainment meet Haute Cuisine in a circus tent?

It never happened in Britain. But I guess after ten years doing what I do my passion, my obsession is for any medium to communicate cooking. And this I would never have thought of. I do a lot of live shows, don't get me wrong. Probably 70 dates in last ten years.

Similar to your cooking demonstrations on TV?

Well, they are an hour and half long, it's a proper production. But it's just theatrical. I cook but you don't get to eat nothin'.

Don't you think it's weird to go to a theatre to watch someone cooking and not eat anything?

Yeah, I guess. But I suppose it's like look at someone sing and not sing or look at someone dance and not dance.

But you can listen to the singer, whereas during your shows the audience did not eat.

Yeah, I know. I tell you what's quite interesting about theatre and cooking. The biggest audience I've ever played in front of is 3300 people. I did a curry. Right at the back of the theatre you could smell every single thing. So it's bizzarely three-dimensional. If you think about cooking on TV it's completely two-dimensional. You can hear it, you can see it. At least in the theatre you can hear it, you can see it, you can smell it. And what we're trying in Germany here: You hear it, you see it, you smell it AND eat it.

Will the food for the audience in the show come from the stage?

No, but I've got my dedicated team on this – fulltime.

You and also your former colleague in London, Tim Mälzer, became famous in Germany for your unconventional way of presenting cooking. How much entertainment and acting does cooking need these days to reach an audience?

I don't know about acting, I never really thought about it. I think what I've personally tried to do over the past ten years is stretch out of traditional cookbooks. You know, I mean, TV-wise I made cookshows, made Travellogs on TV, I did campaigns, documentaries. I try and mix up the media to communicate food. Really, my place is at the restaurant, that's for sure.

That's where I am happiest. But my life took a massive curve ten years ago. And – I don't know – it's been quite hard to decide what the fuck I was supposed to be doing. Be fullfilled in cooking and being chef versa are you are businessman or are you a presenter on TV. And unfortunately it's just a mess, it's a mixture. I don't think I could honestly look you in the eyes and say: „I am just a chef.“ 'Cause I am not. You kinda have to be a bit of everything.

Part of your fame relies on your TV-programmes. What did you think when you heard that the show will ridicule TV-cooking-shows?

(lange Pause) Great. (Pause) Great.

Aren't you biting the hand that feeds you?

Don't be daft. No.

Daft? Daft? What's that?

Daft means: Don't be silly.

Stupid?

No, not stupid, that's too rude. I don't come from a television background. D'you know what I mean? As I said, I am not looking left or right on TV. You can only do what feels right. And is it wrong to sort of take the piss out of celebrity chefs? No! I am one. You know what I mean. It's fucking weird being me sometimes. For better and for worse. I think that at the end of the day, if it makes you laugh and you learn a few things and you eat some good food and you had a good night, then we've done our job.

In preparation for your show, did you ever travel to Germany to look for its regional recipes?

No way.

You claim for your show to use regional produce.

Hmh.

What's so regional about scallops with fried ginger, seeds of pomegranate, shiso-cress and a sour japanese yuzu-juice?

The primary ingredients will all be german and of quality and absolutely from the region we're gonna doing the show. First and foremost: Germans won't come to a show to watch an english boy cook german traditional cooking. Germans will come to this, for this kind of stuff in my menu. And to be honest: This starter-dish is like a one-off in ten years. This is something I made up that happened to stick and I tried to throw it away and it wouldn't go away, so I kept putting it back on the menu.

But the plate is so full of unknown ingredients based on a mussel, the people might need a manual. Some dishes these days are explained by a waiter.

The scallop-crudo is even in my world an unusual dish. That's the reason I put it up for the first menu. It will be off in two months time. But you don't need a manual at all. If you can manage to get a bit of everything in your gob at the same time it's like quite an experience. And if you don't: It's okay. Normally I say: Just fuckin' eat it.

Well, it is delicious...

But I think my job in these show is to represent me, honestly, but also a few surprises. We are writing seasonal menus. So you'll see them change. So if there's wild mushrooms, they'll be wild german mushrooms. If there's beef it will be from a good supplier of german beef. I think it's not my job to bring scottish beef into Germany. But if you're using things like prosciutto or mozzarella you don't buy it in Germany or England but in Italy.

Your show in Germany is running in two cities at the same time. Don't you disappoint guests when you are not around at all? Because what makes you special is you.

Right.

Not the food.

Yeah, but I don't think you could sell 20 million books based on people likin' you. I could base one year of booksales on people likin' me but not for ten years in a row. That's based on trust, the recipes working. People using those recipes in their lives. On special occasions. I am a great believer that it is just more than the face and the brand. I run four restaurants which are all charity, right? „fifteen“ in London, Cornwall, Amsterdam and Melbourne. They are all profitable. And London is seven years old this year. In the next three years I like to open restaurants in South Africa and Germany. When I started „fifteen“ I was in the kitchen for a year and a half. I suppose what I am saying is: The most important thing is not about what I do, but what I get other people to do. In the four „fifteen“ restaurants I approve the menus. It's my job to inspire the chefs to make the best of their local produce and have the confidence to use that. Also service, what it looks like, what music's being played.

That goes for the show in Hamburg and Frankfurt as well?

In no communication we say that I will be there. I'll be at the launches of the shows. It's more of a cultural thing. Of what food is, how it's served, where it's come from.

Was it important to you that your German partner had experience with that kind of shows?

Yes, absolutely. It was important for me that my partner, Michael Hoffmann, has done it successfully for many, many years.

Have you seen one of his earlier shows?

I have never, ever seen one of those shows. But to be honest: It has nothing to do with what we do either. Personally I am not interested in what anyone has done before whether it's TV, publishing or this here. You know, this is the excuse to try something new and push the boundaries a bit.

There's always the risk that you lose your reputation if people see the show and the food isn't what they expected. Like Eckart Witzigmann, the former Three-Star-Chef was risking to lose his good reputation when he did that kind of show.

We are certainly not selling Three-Star-Food.

At least not to 400 people at one time.

No, it's fucking hard. It's really hard. It's really important to control people's expectations.

When you open your restaurant in Germany, what can people expect?

I'd like „fifteen“ to open in Berlin in the next three years. „fifteen“ is not a straight restaurant. The children that we train – 80 percent are from prison, five percent homeless and the rest reasonably lost, young people. The back end of that: That eats up all our profit. We make good blood..., errr, ... we take a lot of money, we make good profits in London and it all get's eaten up by counselling staff, takin' them on trips. It's fucking expensive. That's why I can go into a courtroom and get a kid out of jail. It's because basically 75 percent of our kids end up paying tax, having good jobs, staying out of trouble, keeping off drugs. And, you know, each student cost me about 30 000 pounds a year. How many restaurants do you know that start every financial year with 300 grand debt? That's what I've done for seven years and it's fucking scary. And you've got to be busy, busy, busy all the time. That's how that works. I don't think I can rush that. I have to work with local government, local colleges and find good local people.

Could it turn out that your first restaurant in Germany is something different?

No, no, no. I really want a „fifteen“ in Berlin. But I would also like to open one of my own restaurants in Germany the next eighteen month. Which is a completely different concept. I've partnered up with a young american chef, who is the country's leading barbecue chef. And what we have done is, we've taken barbecue and gone right back in history. What your great-, great-, great-granddad would have been cooking on.

Open fire?

Lugs, Fire, Charcoal, Spit-Roasting. Whole animals in pits. Smoking, curing.

Medieval atmosphere?

Not medieval the way you go there. You want to take your wife there, you want to look sexy, you want to put a nice clean shirt on. And you love a special night. The restaurant is fresh. The cooking: There is no gas, no electricity. It's just coal and fire. But I am not sure which city to go to. So if you have any advise I would take it.

Something people will hardly try at home. German chefs often complain that people buy the books but only a few percent of people will actually cook one of those recipes. Is that true for your books, too?

My quota of people using books is larger.

Why is that?

Because I am not in chef-whites. I've ever, never, well, I've rarely ever done a book or a programme from a context of a chef. If you are nervous of cooking, if you've never been taught to cook, if you can't cook, then learning from a chef is quite scary. Michelin-Stars mean nothing. It's just scary. When you are a chef at home you don't sit there in chef-whites, you sit there in normal gear. I haven't met a chef in my business that spends the amount of time with the public in their houses, relentlessy for months and months and months. I don't make a hundred shows a year, I don't make a ninety shows a year, I don't even make a thirty shows a year. The most I ever did was 24 and that was last year and that was the first time in ten years. I do six shows a year and spend two years making four one-hour-documentaries. I am not sure what I want to say really,....

You wanted to explain why your recipes look simple.

If you talk off-records to publishers how much they do get involved in their books. Is it their hands in the books in the step-by-steps? You will be shocked that a lot of them don't. And if you ask them when they reprint, how many corrections they put in, because they are not fucking right, well... Every recipe I write costs me 1500 pounds to check. I let 'em test by seven people and two of them are complete strangers that I've never met before.

My mom – a fairly good cook – loves your recipes becausce she thinks they are so simple. However, some of them are hardly different to those in other books, your Sauce Bolognese for instance, it's not easier than traditional recipes. Quite a bit of chopping up things.

Are you telling me that chopping up things is hard?

No, but it's not much else but a straightforward italian recipe.

Yeah, yeah (sehr gedehnt ausgesprochen). Of course. But all good cooking is straighforward.

But aren't you lying then to the audience when you suggest that everything is simpler than they thought? Wouldn't it be fair to say: Cooking needs time?

Man, you can't say to me: „Am I lying to people? Have I based ten years of career on lying?“ I don't know. Have you based ten years of your career on a lie? Of course not!

Well, not lying may...

To meet you halfway in your answer: I spend a lot of time with all sorts of people from the public: Rich people, no time, single mums, people on benefits, unemployed etc., etc., etc.. If you look at the next book I've written – that's soooo far back. That is so fucking basic. It's step by step, pictures for every recipe. I don't agree with what you've just said, but if I am gonna be generous and meet you halfway then: This year I did have a realization that maybe I've spent ten years preaching to the converted. Do you know what I mean by that? It's a bit of a british saying. They'll gonna fuck cooking anyway. I just nudged them.

....and then?...

Then I kinda start of thinking: „Should I really pat myself on the back for teaching people that would cook anyway?“ Surely instead of being excited about the good things I should really be obsessing and focusing in my life on the people that really need to fucking cook, that never have been taught, the people that spending way too much money for processed food and even Take-Away. I can cook you a free-range chicken with all the trimmings, roast-dinner for four to six people for 12 pounds fifty. And for that you can't even buy a Kfc-Fucking-Bargain-Barrel-Bucket of chicken. And God knows where the chicken comes from.

What are the consequenses?

I don't what the financial situation of Germany is right now. England is like almost immediately in the past seven months in a recession. And actually quite a lot of that recesssion is quite food-orientated. I could never have dreamed of that. The price of rice, the price of pasta, flour – commodities. Everyone spends has gone up 15 percent. So the bolognese is helpful because you can use cheap cuts of meat and take a little meat along the way. This time is important now. The people that are not well off, that have never been taught to cook are really in a dark place right now because they can't nourish their families properly.

What makes a simple dish a great dish?

Pfffff..... Just make it properly. Even just cooking a beautiful steak properly. If you watch 20 people cooking a steak they do it so many ways. They put it in cool pans, hottish pans, you know, having that confidence to fucking heat that pan up seasoning it nicely and then cook it fast and let it rest. I think just getting it right, that's the tough thing. Books can just do that much. They'll get you from A-Z, at least, that's what they should do. TV is nice, it can take you on a journey, it can teach you stuff but you can't smell it. Once it's off, that's it. You have to take notes. The best thing in the world is one person and one person. Like when I was taught by my mother or friends and friends. That's the holy grail. I guess, that's what we guys are making up for these days.

The number of single households goes up. Many people are no longer living in a family. Do you think we'll ever catch up with cooking by TV, Books or Shows?

Yeah, my knowledge of the intricacies of social life in Germany is small. I don't know if England and Germany are that different anymore. We were happy to tax the mothers to go to work. We put nothing back. So the mums are going to work. We know absolutely precisely what's being lost because of that. And we can make an effort as a government, certainly, to teach every kid at the age of thirteen to sixteen how to cook ten basic meals that taste fucking nice. And don't talk to them about cooking. Don't get them to invent packaging. Don't talk them about backs of packs. Get'em touching it. My idea is: Ten, twelve meals will get'em out of trouble. A bolognese which can be turned into as lasagne, which can be turned into a chili and how to make a good soup and make it taste like shit. How to do a stir-fry, how to do a roast-dinner. Basic stuff. If every kid at school was taught to cook, that would be incredible. But of course in England that's not the case. That's kind of why I started Schools-Dinner-Campaign. Kids going to school with four, coming out with sixteen and for 19 days of every year they eat fucking shit. It's really hard times. We owe it to the mothers of the country we are taking the money off to put back the stuff that's not there. It's absolutely right that women have the opportunity to do whatever they see fit in work. And times always change. But it's wrong of government to sit back and say: „Oh, we are the third most unhealthiest in the world.“ How dare they? That fucking went out of order.

How about the homes then?

Well, I think in England this is the first generation where the kids could actually be helping there parents to learn to cook. Now, they could really do, because we have three generations of non-cooks in England. You know, I sometimes wonder if it's a load of talk about food, food, food – is it fucking that important? And of course I ask myself that question: „Is is it that fucking important?“.

Is it?

Well, even in the last nine months I've spent most of the time in complete strangers houses from all walks of life. All ethnic minorities, ages, financial backgrounds. And food has the most incredible on those families. Socially, financially. And in times like this, when there's a recession: Humans are fucking clever. If you look at the best dishes in Germany, in Italy – they were created when humans were put under pressure. When times are good we turn into spoiled brats where we are eating fucking filet steaks and lobsters. Boring. You know, when shit gets interesting, you know they start taking cheap cuts, gettin' the flavour out. How can we make it stay longer? Potted meats, cure it, smoke it. When humans are put under pressure and – that's the key – they can cook: They're genius. England is in an intersting time, when people are put under pressure, financially, and can't cook. Their answer is to buy cheaper processed junk food. Can you see the vicious circle? That's why I am such a fucking advocate of cooking from scratch. I mean, not every day. And you don't have sit at a table every day. You don't have to stop eatin' pizzas and burgers. It's just the fucking excess.

At the same time food is quite hip. Shows and books prove it. At least in one part of the society.

Yeah, it's quite polarised. I can only give you an expert opinon from food. If you said: „Jamie, has radical shit happened in England in ten years?“ I'd say: „Yes, sir!“ Like incredible. Like Amazing. Has the quality of farming, bio-dynamics, organics risen. People sourcing incredible shit from distant parts of the world and bringin' it to Brixton. Is that happening? Yeah! And I am gettin' blowin away on a weekly basis. But it's basically for the the people that are obsessed by food and got loads of money and others worry about it. I know personally cityboys on hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, rich cityboys who will go out for posh lunches on their business card and then they'll go home and they'll eat fucking shit. Although it's class and the money effects it still comes back to knowledge. If you don't how to cook a good steak and you are on a couple of hundred grand a year then you buy a Kfc on your way home.

What about food at the workplace?

I did a project this year trying to get these workplaces, factories to get their bit. I mean we call it „Corporate Responsibility“. This is my belief anyway: It's not so much the canteen. Everyone that knows they've got a shit canteen knows they got a shit canteen. What amazes me is, the Boss puts up with it. What we've done in a few businesses this year is to pass it on where people in the business who can cook teach those who can't how to do it in the lunchbreaks and the boss is paying for the food. That seems to be working pretty well. We've got one the biggest companies in the country to sign up for it, which is the Royal Mail.

So school education should start at school and go on at the workplace?

I think we have no fucking choice at all than to ambership, military precision. Feed them at school, yes, that will make a difference. How do you get the people to care for something they don't give a fuck about. Or have no use for. OR – unfortunately – feel they don't deserve. What I am feeling at the moment is that a lot of people sitting at a table is posh, middle-class, elitist. Where the fuck did that come from? Because that's only the last 30 years we started that. Sitting around table, eating proper food, has NEVER been elitist. If you look in the record of Noble Cooking or Rich People's cooking, it's not that fucking interesting. It's just not. All the great chefs all the good cooks, were ducking and diving and resourceful and trying to create flavour where there is no flavour, trying to create texture where there is no texture. So it's upsets me when people say it's posh.

You travelled the world. Which kitchen did impress you the most?

Hmmm. I can't get away from the heart and soul of the italian food. It's greeeat. It's very much about sharing. Sharing to all. Anything. Anything you want, have it. Take the recipes - I don't care. Take my sister, take my wife. Just take it. That's what I always felt. I worked in France. And though they can be generous they are not generous up front like the italians are. And I travelled to Japan. I can't see myself cooking it, but fucking hell – they really are craftsmen.

Some people claim that Italian food is even better in Tokyo than in Italy. Though it might spoil the Italian adventure of beauty but slight imperfections.

Totally. If you go to an italian Michelin-Star-Restaurant – pfrrrrr – fucking hell. Get me down to the trattoria any day. It's not Italian. If you get too precise it's not Italian. There are some incredible Japanese doing Italian food. They source like mad. If you go to winemakers or oil-mill in italy. Where does it go: America, Britain – Japan. How much goes local? None. They still pay their pickers with oil the rest goes out of the country. But if you start getting to accurate you start losing the signature of what Italian food is.

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