1997 The Jamie phenomenon

Jamie Oliver became The Naked Chef. The impossibly jaunty young chef received his big break when he appeared on television as part of a documentary on London’s River Café. He went on to found a food empire and embrace food-related social causes, winning an MBE in 2003. Despite his good works, how can you possibly warm to someone who calls his kids Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom Rainbow, and Buddy Bear Maurice?

Before his rise to fame, Jamie Oliver had worked at his parents’ pub in Essex, spent time as a pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s London restaurant and worked alongside Gennaro Contaldo, who he regarded as his mentor. After an appearance in the River Café documentary, in 1997 he was offered his own television series The Naked Chef. The first series was filmed in his home.

The rather naughty title referred, not to the chef, but to the aim of stripping recipes down to their bare essentials to appeal to home cooks. (The puritanical Americans renamed the series Oliver’s Twist.) The Naked Chef cookbook became a best-seller. The series ran until 2001 and included an episode where Jamie worked with several Australian chefs. He took them to Porth in North Cornwall, described as the British equivalent of Bondi, to demonstrate that Britain also has surf, and set up a beach barbecue.

Jamie Oliver later became known for his crusading zeal for social causes, including better nutrition. In 2002 he set up “Fifteen”, to train fifteen disadvantaged teenagers in hospitality. Fifteen Melbourne opened in September 2006 with an Australian friend and fellow chef Tobie Puttock. It burnt down in 2008 after arson and theft by one of its managers. Jamie also campaigned for healthier school dinners but admitted that he had failed, because many Britons viewed such food as an affectation by the wealthy middle-class.

Oliver has since made many other TV series, released dozens of recipe books and a headed up a string of business enterprises. His restaurant chain, Jamie’s Italian, opened several Australian outlets – the first in Sydney in 2011. However, in 2017 the chain suffered a financial crisis. It speaks to Jamie’s wealth that he only saved the international chain by contributing $22.8 million of his own money. Nonetheless, the Canberra restaurant was closed and the other Australian restaurants sold off.

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