Interview: Jamie Oliver
He is famously passionate in his crusade to bring good food to the masses and Jamie Oliver has brought his message to Canary Wharf with his new restaurant.
Jamie's Italian officially opened its doors in Churchill Place yesterday and the chef spoke exclusively to The Wharf about it.
Even though it has to negotiate those tricky first few weeks there won't be any cut-price deals to tempt Wharfers in - and for a good reason according to the chef.
He said: "It's a special deal anyway. We give people a £40 meal for £20 and it's great value. The average spend is between £17 and £21, and that includes drinks. Customers wallets aren't caned and I want them to keep coming back.
"I'm not going to put prices up even though some City boys I know said it was too cheap. Jamie's Italian is for everybody, PAs and secretaries as well as chief executives and bankers."
Despite his fame Jamie, 34, is still sweating on the latest part of his empire being a success.
He said: "It's all my money that's gone into it, no venture capitalists are involved so I hope and pray we will be bloody busy. I was worried for a week or so after signing the lease but I reviewed what needed to be done and decided nothing neeeded changing.
"I went through two recessions with my Dad, who owns a pub in Essex, and thought about what he did. It's all about hard work and giving people value for money."
The attention to detail extends to ensuring the expected lunchtime demand is fully met.
He said: "I know people don't have the time these days for long lunches, so the kitchens are designed for the lunch trade to make sure customers are served as quickly as possible."
This week Jamie Oliver Holdings announced profits increased by 82 per cent from £3.7million to £6.8million, although opening new venues meant the Jamie's Italian brand made a loss of £924,341 for 2008.
The figures exclude the Canary Wharf branch and Jamie revealed he wasn't sure about a Docklands location.
He said: "It wasn't the first place I thought of putting a restaurant. All our other ones are in university towns like Bath and Brighton but I thought Canary Wharf was a great opportunity.
"I was worried about weekend trade but it doesn't seem to be a problem. There's so much going on down there now there are quite a few people around at weekends."
Like many chefs Jamie's passion for food burns brightly. Get him started on the subject and there's no stopping the flow as he covers topics like organic food and improving school dinners.
A Food Standards Agency report last week cast doubt on the health benefits of organic food but Jamie remains a committed advocate.
He said: "You always get these reports. My belief is if you look over the last five years at the chemicals that have been sprayed on crops a lot of them have been banned. That tells you something. I grew up in the country and saw the tractors spraying their s*** on the crops. Do you really want to be eating that?
"British farming is very well behaved, but there are a lot of bad practices outside the UK and that produce is being shipped in. So if you can buy local it's going to be better.
"It's hard to be organic in times like this but you can make it work. If you can't be 100 per cent organic then just concentrate on things like milk, yoghurt, eggs and chicken."
Jamie earned acclaim for his campaign to improve the quality of school dinners and it's something he is still involved in.
He said: "I've dug myself a bit of a CV for this now but I really want to spread the word about food. We've got 50 per cent of schools doing amazing things but it's trying to provoke the other 50 per cent to change that's difficult.
"We've got the Government listening and they have committed to six years, although it's difficult when they keep changing the education secretary every year. If I changed my head chefs as often as they change it would cost me a fortune."
Jamie has also started free cookery classes for all in Rotherham, with another to follow in Bradford.
He said: "We get all walks of life in and it always brings a smile to people's faces when they realise they can cook something. Everyone should be able to cook and it's a brilliant gift to give a child."
His latest TV adventure starts next month, an exploration of American food.
He said: "There's an amazing food scene over there, lots of different styles of cooking because there are so many different immigrants. The Americans are very good at convenience and when the accountants get hold of that it makes the quality drop
"What I've tried to do is find the authentic cooking and for that you often have to go off the beaten track."
Aware that certain cheffs have been accused of spreading their talents too thinly, having fingers in too many pies so to speak, Jamie was keen to stress he is still hands-on at his restaurants.
He said: "I do visit them all to check how things are going. It's absolutely the most important thing I do and I put everything into it. It's a concept I've been working on since I was 18 or 19 and I have to control it.
"It's not like it's one special restaurant, so it can be hard to control it but I want everyone who comes to eat there have the best possible experience."
There is definitely one item that won't be making an appearance on the Jamie's Italian menu.
He said: "No mate, there won't be any turkey twizzlers on there."
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