As he launches his new 15-Minute Meals book, our columnist Jamie Oliver says it’s high time he put his family first
23:26 GMT, 5 October 2012
When Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals came out two years ago, it caused the sort of clamour usually reserved for the latest million-selling fad diet or an out-of-the-blue bestseller like Fifty Shades Of Grey.
With its combination of recipes from a trusted chef and simple step-by-step instructions, all set to a strict timetable, the book was a sensation with all those who love to cook but don’t have enough time.
It became the UK’s fastest-selling non-fiction book ever, with more than 1.7 million copies flying off the shelves. And it helped Jamie Oliver to become Britain’s second-best-selling author after JK Rowling.
Jamie is launching his latest Fifteen Minute Meals cookbook and plans to spend more time with his family
‘Clearly, the book was answering a need,’ he reflects when we meet to talk about the eagerly anticipated follow-up, Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals.
‘The last two or three generations haven’t been taught to cook at school and at home like their parents and grandparents, and so are in need of modern ideas and tips and shortcuts.’
The 37-year-old chef is dressed down in a sweatshirt and gym shorts and looking a bit beefier than usual. He works out twice a week with a personal trainer, but says his weight doesn’t fluctuate. ‘I don’t feel sensitive when people comment on my weight,’ he insists.
‘I’ve never been super-skinny and I haven’t been a massive lump, but working with food is tough – my job is cooking and eating constantly.’
He starts with a confession. Despite its success, Jamie wasn’t entirely satisfied with 30-Minute Meals. ‘I showed off too much in that book,’ he says. ‘There were five elements, if you include drinks, desserts and starters – that’s a Friday night dinner, not a Monday or Tuesday meal. So I wanted to write a book you could eat from seven days a week, a bible that will be your mate and sidekick.’
Jamie is one of the nation's favourite fathers
Hence Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, pared down to one or two courses that don’t require an oven, only a hob and a kettle for boiling water for rice and couscous.
‘This is probably the hardest book I’ve written and four times harder to test,’ says Jamie. ‘We put it out to lots of people – strangers, OAPs and teenagers and even the most average cooks in our office – to make sure the recipes really can be done in that time.’
The recipes in Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals were similarly tested, but that didn’t stop complaints that they actually took longer than half an hour to make. Jamie’s reply is characteristically colourful.
‘I could give you a lot of defensive sh** and say they didn’t do the recipes exactly from the book or didn’t use a food processor for chopping – which is an absolute must, unless you have knife skills like me,’ he replies. ‘I look on Twitter and somebody says it took them 45 minutes and I think, “God bless you, keep trying and you’ll speed up next time.”
Then I found some college kids saying they’d done some of the recipes in 26 minutes. I have the most to lose from not making sure the recipes are tested to the hilt.’
Now Mail readers can try out the 15-Minute Meals for themselves. The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday are giving away ten brilliant wipe-clean recipe cards with two recipes on each card, chosen by Jamie from his new book. Your first two recipe cards will be free inside next Saturday’s Weekend.
The magazine will also feature a list of the basic equipment and store cupboard essentials you need to make 15-Minute Meals a success for you and your family.
Were he not a chef, Jamie is exactly the sort of busy parent who’d need a book like 15-Minute Meals, which has also been made into a Channel 4 series.
His schedule remains packed, but he is trying hard to spend more time at home. ‘As much as possible I’m having a four-day week,’ he says.
‘I feel a lot happier about the amount of time I’m getting with the family.’ He says he cooks for them at the weekends, when he and his wife Jools and children Poppy, ten, Daisy, nine, Petal, three, and two-year-old Buddy decamp from London to their Essex farmhouse. Jamie gives a glimpse into hectic mealtimes chez Oliver.
I feel a lot happier about the amount of time I'm getting with the family, says Jamie
‘With three girls, emotions can run high, and with all their activities, lunchtimes are impossible,’ he says. ‘But when you get everyone together for dinner, it’s worth it. I think never to have family meals is unforgivable. It’s where kids learn table manners. It keeps you together.’
He spends the weekends doing ‘what most people with kids do. If it’s a normal weekend, it’s ferrying them to clubs and parties on Saturday, and then a quiet evening in front of the TV,’ he says. ‘Sundays we might have the family or mates around for lunch.’
The arrival of baby Buddy has, of course, changed the family dynamic. ‘It’s amazing how different he is,’ says Jamie. ‘He’s a proper, clichd little boy: anything that moves or anything with cogs or wheels, he’s into it, and I’m constantly trying to stop him falling into holes or climbing up ladders. Having seen my mates with six- and seven-year-old boys, they’re so sweet, and I’m looking forward to us doing daddy-and-son stuff together.’
Jamie’s 12-year marriage to Jools is often in the news, one revelation coming a few weeks ago when Jools admitted she checks her husband’s emails and texts. One itches to know Jamie’s thoughts on this. ‘I think that texts-checking thing was discussed on Loose Women the day afterwards,’ he chuckles almost proudly.
The arrival of baby Buddy has, of course, changed the family dynamic
‘Basically, every woman checks her husband’s texts and emails, but doesn’t admit it. It’s normal wifely behaviour, isn’t it’
He seems unconcerned about Jools scrolling through his phone. He says she’s not the jealous type and not so much looking for evidence of any infidelity as keeping up with his manic schedule. ‘If you’re truly busy in your work and trying to be a decent husband or parent, there is no more time for an affair,’ he says, half-laughing. ‘Where people find time to get among it, I don’t know.’
However, Jools was hurt by the sensation her admission caused, he says, and paints a picture of his wife as naive and trusting.
‘She’s a lovely, lovely girl. She’d done this clothing line with Mothercare, and when you do that stuff you have to do some interviews, which is how the email story came out. Then, when it kicked off… well, she’s not weathered like me. But she’s fine now. She’s got a bit tougher in the last couple of months.’
He says the timing of the revelation was ironic, because things between them are better than ever. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been happier,’ he says. ‘I admire and love Jools to bits.’
Ruefully, he notes that showing such enthusiasm is likely to attract flak. ‘If you have a good marriage that will p*** people off, and if you have an opinion, that also p***** people off,’ he says.
Jamie admits he doesn’t Google himself and only allows himself 15 minutes a day on Twitter for feedback on his projects. ‘When you’re in the public eye, it’s not too good for the soul to know too much about what other people think.’
He even brings up Gordon Ramsay’s criticism of him as ‘a one-pot wonder’ two years ago, which suggests Jamie isn’t as thick-skinned as he claims. He didn’t retaliate, he says, because ‘Gordon does such a good job of making trouble for himself. Also, he’s got a really nice wife and kids and I wouldn’t want them to read something I said.’
Jamie’s school dinners campaign to get children to eat more healthily is now on the back burner, but he plans to relight its fire in a few years.
Jamie seems unconcerned about Jools scrolling through his phone and says his wife is trusting
Having dealt fruitlessly with a changing cast of education ministers since launching the campaign in 2005, he says, ‘Deep down I’ve lost faith in any sort of sustainable act of government to legislate for food in schools that will help the fight against obesity.’ Instead, he plans to raise enough money through his businesses to experiment with a model for healthy dinners that schools, local authorities or governments could follow.
‘I’m trying to grow up and be cleverer and not baffled by bull**** and smiley faces,’ he says getting heated. ‘I know where I want to get. I pay my taxes and I want what every parent wants for their kids.’
Meanwhile, Jamie will continue to plough his own furrow, confident enough to follow his instincts. ‘I just kind of crack on and if it’s good it will work. If it’s not, it won’t,’ he shrugs.
And, as he promises, ‘You don’t have to be able to cook like a ninja to create my 15-minute dishes, but these meals have flavour combinations that will put big smiles on the faces of your family and mates.
‘I like the idea of people picking up my books and not being too snooty about food – it’s blunt and to the point. It’s business, there’s no mucking about, it’s pulling your finger out and saying, “Let’s create some bloody good cooking for busy people.”’