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 Jamie, 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 Jamie’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 Jamie 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.
Jamie 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 ten 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,“ Jamie 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!“
The BBQ Book by DJ BBQ, The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma and The Family Cook Book by Kerryann Dunlop are Jamie Oliver Food Tube books, published by Penguin, priced £7.99 each. Available now. Check out their videos on Jamie’s Food Tube channel