In a nondescript old warehouse in London’s trendy East End, there’s a secret army at work, cooking up a storm.
Nile Street is Jamie Oliver HQ, from where the chef and his team of cooks mastermind his next move... or maybe not.
“Everyone always seems to think there’s a massively strategic... strategy,” says Oliver, laughing, “but generally, there isn’t.”
It’s quite a task to count up the number of pies he currently has fingers in — there are his restaurants (37 Jamie’s Italians at last count, Fifteen, Barbecoa...), his publishing empire (umpteen books and Jamie magazine), the Jamie At Home cookery range, his Fabulous Feasts catering business, his Fresh One production company - the list goes on.
It sounds exhausting, but today, Oliver’s as fresh-faced as ever and has boundless energy. It’s reflected in his latest venture, Food Tube, a YouTube network dedicated to cooking videos; his organic, interactive alternative to normal food programmes.
Since it launched last year, millions have watched clips — such as Oliver and Kevin Bacon going head to head in an ultimate bacon sandwich contest — and it’s made viral stars of his proteges, including DJ BBQ, Cupcake Jemma and Kerryann Dunlop, who have all now launched cookbooks under the banner ‘Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube Presents...’
They’re currently all seated in comfy tan leather sofas on a floor of the warehouse that doubles as an office, complete with mood boards and a kitchen/studio for making Food Tube videos.
“These guys smashed it,” says Jamie of why he picked the trio to have books published. “I thought, ‘June, July, barbecue, fantastic’. For comfort food on a budget, Kerryann’s just smashing it with the feedback from the audience, they really love her. And who could not love Jemma and cakes?”
They make a motley crew: DJ BBQ (aka Christian Stevenson) is an American extreme sports presenter-turned DJ-turned cook, hard-working Jemma Wilson wowed Jamie at a street party with her cupcake stall, and Kerryann was one of his first apprentices at Fifteen when she was just 17.
“I’ve never left him alone really, I sort of stuck to him,” says the bubbly mum. Her book, The Family Cook Book, is full of scrummy recipes to make for and with kids and her secret weapon is what she calls the “batch” cook — making loads of something to freeze, like fish pie or her versatile Hidden Vegetable Pasta Sauce.
DJ BBQ is so enthusiastic about cooking, it makes your mouth water. He’s adamant we should be barbecuing year-round, not just in summer. “It’s the original way we all cooked. We cooked on charcoal and on wood, and we shouldn’t have stopped because there’s flavour in that fuel,” he says.
Oliver agrees: “It’s only 70 years that we’ve been cooking on electric and gas. For the billion years before that, there’s always been a cinder, puffs of smoke - it’s a sensory thing. If you stand in front of a fire, there’s something earthly and connected [about it], not sterile.”
Jemma runs a bakery called Crumbs & Doilies and was there at the start of the ‘cupcake revolution’. Having a Food Tube channel is a “dream come true”.
“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a TV presenter and I’d put that to one side to start my bakery, but this means I get to do both things,” she says. “I’m proud of the bakery, but for a time, I didn’t get to bake for fun, I just used to bake cupcakes. Which is great, but sometimes, you just want to make a flapjack, you know?”
As for the Naked Chef himself, is there anything else he’s working on - any more plans for world domination?
“Not really, I think Food Tube is the big one for me. If anything, I’m doing less in the next 10 years. I’ve had my very experimental five years and I’ve learned lots from it. I’ve tried and tested lots of tiny things. Most of it has worked and a handful have failed, and that’s what it’s all about,” Oliver says. “I think the next 15, 20 years is about doing less, being more focused, people, relationships — and having a good laugh.”
And putting his feet up a bit?
“I don’t know about that!”
Here are three recipes from Jamie’s Food Tube stars to try at home...
BEER CAN CHICKEN (serves 6)
1 x 1.7kg higher-welfare whole chicken
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 x 330ml can of your favourite beer
Before you start, check if your barbecue lid fits over the chicken upright. If not, don’t worry, you can lay the bird out flat - you just need to decide which way you’re doing it before you prepare the chicken, then set the bird aside to come up to room temperature. Meanwhile, set up your barbecue for the heat canyon technique (place the coals on opposite sides of the barbecue to make two heat walls - this will create sections of hot, direct heat on the sides, with an indirect, cooler area in the middle to ensure your meat gets consistent heat throughout the cook). Place a drip tray inside the middle of the barbecue. Cover with the lid and allow to heat up like an outdoor oven - you want a temperature of around 175C/345F.
Pick the leaves from two rosemary sprigs and bash in a pestle and mortar with a drizzle of oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper, then rub all over the chicken. Make sure the beer is at room temperature, then pour out two-thirds of it (or drink it!) and insert the remaining rosemary sprigs into the can. Now for the tricky bit - use both hands to pull the chicken’s rear apart and carefully manoeuvre it on to the beer can. If you’re laying the chicken flat, make sure you position the can so the hole is at the top to prevent the beer from spilling out.
Place the bird upright on the middle of the barbecue, making sure the legs are pointing forward so it doesn’t topple over - a comical sight - and cover with the lid. Cook for around one hour 30 minutes, or until golden and cooked through, remembering to replenish with hot coals halfway, if needed. To check if it’s ready, pierce a thigh with a knife - if the juices run clear, it’s done. Remove the bird to a board to rest for 10 minutes (this is the perfect time to take some rad photos), then carve up and serve. Enjoy the juiciness, ness, ness . . . wow, this meal comes with reverb.
TIP: Once the chicken is cooked and resting, put some sunglasses on her and upload the photos to Instagram — a bird sitting on a can of beer in glasses will definitely get you some likes.
(Recipe from The BBQ Book by DJ BBQ)
FISH PIE (serves 8)
1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
1.2 litres whole milk
1/4 of a medium onion, peeled
1 fresh bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
320g frozen white fish fillets
320g frozen salmon fillets
80g unsalted butter
80g plain flour
Zest and juice from 1 unwaxed lemon
300g frozen peeled cooked prawns
300g frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground b lack pepper
Basic mash made with 3kg Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7. Pick the parsley leaves and set aside for later, then tie the stalks together with string and place in a large pan over a medium heat with the milk, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and fish fillets. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish to a plate and leave to cool. Carefully strain the milk through a sieve into another pan and put to one side.
Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, then whisk in the flour, until well combined (you’ll end up with what looks like a lump of dough - this is called the roux). Gradually add the warm milk a splash at a time, whisking continuously until any lumps have disappeared and you have a smooth white sauce - you may not need to add all the milk, so use your brain and stop when it’s looking good. Add the lemon zest and juice, then roughly chop and add the parsley leaves, stir in the prawns and peas (I like petits pois, but any peas will do) and add a pinch of salt and pepper.
Flake the fish into a 25cm x 30cm baking dish, spoon over the sauce and top with my basic mash. Roughly smooth it out to the edges, then use a spoon to scuff it up - this will make it look lovely, textured, and much more appealing for the kids! Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbling at the edges. Serve with steamed broccoli or a crisp green salad.
(Recipe from The Family Cook Book by Kerryann Dunlop)
PB & J CUPCAKES (makes 24)
For the cupcakes:
250g self-raising flour
250g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
270g unsalted butter, softened
4 large free-range eggs
100g peanut butter
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 x 340g jar of quality seedless raspberry jam
For the peanut crumb:
100g peanut butter
100g icing sugar
For the buttercream icing:
300g unsalted butter, softened
120g peanut butter
540g icing sugar
4 tablespoons whole milk
2 x 12-hole muffin trays, with snug-fitting paper cases
1 x piping bag (with 5mm nozzle)
Preheat the oven to 170C fan/375F/gas 5. Sift the dry cupcake ingredients and one pinch of fine sea salt into a large bowl, add the butter, eggs and peanut butter, then beat for 60 seconds with an electric mixer (I prefer the free-standing type). Pour in the milk and whisk for 20 seconds, or until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then give the mix a final blast for 30 seconds to make sure it’s all incorporated. Fill the paper cases two-thirds full with mixture, but don’t bother to smooth it out. Bake for 20 minutes, or until they spring back when touched. Leave to cool slightly, transferring to a wire cooling rack after five minutes.
Meanwhile, make the peanut crumb. Place the peanut butter in a food processor, sift in the icing sugar and whiz for one to two minutes to make small, delicious crumbs, then set aside.
For the icing, beat the butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer for five to six minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, then add to the butter in two stages, beating well between each. Pour in the milk and beat for a further three to five minutes, or until well combined. Once the cupcakes are cool, poke a hole into the middle of each with a chopstick, twist to widen the hole, then use a piping bag to fill each one with a good squeeze of jam. Decorate with the icing, top with a blob of jam, if you like, and a sprinkling of peanut crumb to finish, then enjoy.