When Jamie Oliver first came onto the scene in the early 2000s, he was a rosy-cheeked, tousled blond hair, moped riding hipster with a tactile way of handling food that drew attention from the intelligentsia. Whereas, people back then were obsessed with Michelin star restaurants and the proper way of handling food with all the accoutrements, here came this rules-breaking young lad who would use his hands to smother olive oil all over his vegetables and toss things into the air only to catch it on his pan, like a seasoned baseball player or star performer.
Jamie Oliver from the Naked Chef, the breakout BBC2 cooking show that showcased his life in London.
The unusual format of his original BBC 2 show also lead to his popularity. In the series, The Naked Chef, he would often be talking to an unseen woman off camera who would be asking questions about what he was doing. He would explain a bit, talk about what he learned from various places, and it wasn’t so much a cooking show, but a way of life that he was promoting, of this carefree bachelor lifestyle in London, entertaining all his lady friends. Gone was the boring step-by-step how-to’s of the decades before, and here was the time of storytelling, what it was like being a young man living in London.
Jamie Oliver's 2010 TedTalk in which he discusses teaching young children about making healthy food choices, a crusade in which he changed school lunches for children in the UK, in which he won many awards.
It wouldn’t be long before he would dominate all of the UK and open restaurants all over the nation. Jamie would also begin a campaign of healthy eating for schoolchildren and soon declared a war against white refined sugar which gathered global attention and many awards. The young tousled blond lad soon turned into the cool, flannel wearing dad, preparing BBQ over many different regions and countries, traveling in his camper or truck. The rustic background of his cookery style appealed to people of all different demographics. With Jamie, there was never any pretension or elitist airs, he was someone whom everyone wanted to have a beer with after work.
What Jamie taught the UK population was how to make simple food and present it well, using as few ingredients as possible. Nothing he made was overly complex or grandiose. He wasn’t aiming for Michelin stars, he was moving into the hearts of people who cared about value and fresh ingredients.
There were always two dividing factors to the Jamie Oliver empire: the media side and the retail side. Through his television programmes and his books, Jamie taught us everything we needed to know to make simple, elegant dishes at home. What was once a complete mystery became easy for us to produce in the comfort of our own kitchens. There was a time in the UK when Italian food meant something luxurious, an indulgent candlelit meal out, the favourite cuisine of date nights. However, in a span of a decade, Jamie revealed exactly how to produce those same dishes with just 5-6 ingredients.
Although all of Jamie's Italian and Barbecoa restaurants have closed, his Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall is still open for business. Fifteen was founded on a philosophy to help disadvantaged people find new jobs in the food sector. Jamie trained an entire kitchen and server staff coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of the staff at his Fifteen restaurant are reformed drug addicts.
It was no wonder then that all the locations of Jamie’s Italian restaurants would end up closing down and moving into administration (ie, bankruptcy). There was no longer a reason for us to go out and have an Italian meal because over the years, Jamie taught us how to make Italian dishes at home, simply and beautifully. Once elusive and mysterious, Italian became the easiest of all cuisines to deliver satisfactorily at home. Instead, the population moved towards the exotic or towards inexpensive take-aways, something to pick up when we were busy or something to try that we’ve never tried before. As the UK opened its door to immigration, all the different varieties of local cuisine became intermingled with international flavours: from Korean to Pakistani to Indian to Ethiopian to Russian to Vietnamese, the population in the UK sought variety as the spice of life. Italian became something more of a traditional stand-in, but Jamie had shown us that we could be frugal, and to only use few quality ingredients to make the perfect pasta for a family dinner, so in a paradoxical manner, there was no longer a need to experience Italian cuisine outside our homes. He had taught us well.
The philosophy for Jamie Oliver's Veg cookbook was to breakdown stereotypes of vegetables as bland side dishes and instead showcase them as main dishes. Jamie's new television programme, Jamie's Meat-Free Meals on Channel 4 also brings vegan and vegetarian meals to the wider UK public, something no celebrity chef has ever done before.
Although, the retail restaurant side of Jamie Oliver’s empire collapsed, the media empire he has built lives on. Recently, Jamie launched a cookbook that no other well-known celebrity chef has done before, a cookbook entirely devoted to vegan and vegetarian recipes. On his YouTube channel from several years back, he admitted that he had wanted to produce a vegetarian recipe cookbook for some time but his publishers had told him that there hadn’t been a market big enough to sell to the public. However, with the demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes rising and the growing popularity of companies such as Beyond Meat, Jamie would now use his star influence to bring vegetarian consciousness to the wider UK public, to break down the stereotypes of vegan and vegetarian dishes as boring, tasteless and bland.
There are many media icons who might disappear and never be seen again or otherwise doing the same thing that had catapulted them into fame, but somehow have fallen out of favour with the public. However, in the evolution of Jamie Oliver, he has shown how to adapt to changing demands and to keep the public engaged with his effusive personality, political campaigns and his ability to connect with people of all different kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. In this way, Jamie does not hide his opinions nor shrink from responsibility, he is not a flattened two-dimensional brand, but an icon who has influenced the way people think not only about food, but what it means to be a person living in the UK today.