Jamie Oliver has said that some “posh” restaurant chains merely “assemble” plates of food and mislead customers into thinking that the meal that they’re eating is fully prepared on-site.
The celebrity TV chef, who shot to fame in his early twenties thanks to the launch of his BBC cooking show, The Naked Chef, saw his UK-wide high street restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian go into liquidation in 2019. Now, in a new interview with The Times, Oliver has reflected on what restaurant chains have to offer in 2023.
“If you look at some places [posh chains] — they’re assembling food,” Oliver told the publication. “There’s so much happening off-site and everyone thinks they’re getting a posh meal. It’s like, really? Come on.”
By contrast, Oliver says, his now-closed restaurant chain was “marinating, cooking, [and] making all our dressings on site.”
Oliver opened his first branch of Jamie’s Italian in 2008 and saw rapid expansion across the UK in the early 2010s. But that came crashing down when the debt of the business started piling up.
Oliver told The Times that he had aimed to run a proper kitchen operation, to pay above minimum wage and to bring ethnically sourced food to the mid-market, but, when rents increased and profits were down, it was difficult for the restaurant to maintain quality.
At the time of its launch, Oliver said he intended to “positively disrupt mid-market dining in the high street in the UK”. But in 2018, Oliver declared he had “no more money” to invest in Jamie’s Italian and it was revealed at the time that Jamie’s Italian had debts of £71.5m, including £2.2m in wages owed to staff and £30.2m of overdrafts and loans.
Just before the company’s collapse, The Sunday Times’ Marina O’Loughlin reviewed the “tagliatelle with truffles” dish at Jamie’s in Westfield Stratford.
“Appalling, a honking, salty swamp of a sauce, brown and dusty with nutmeg,” O’Loughlin wrote. “Tiny chunks, not shavings, of tasteless black truffle lurk around, like mouse poos in soup.”
Oliver has now admitted that he realises the model for Jamie’s Italian had been “wrong from day one”, with the business often punching above its weight when outbidding competitors for premium high street locations.
He said that when he opened the restaurant chain in 2008, he and his team were “so hot”, which brought a “feeling of cockiness”.
Elsewhere in the interview, Oliver revealed why he bought his 16th century Essex mansion while his business was heading for collapse and 1,000 employees lost their jobs. He was scrutinised in some quarters after builders were spotted carrying out work on the mansion house shortly after the business folded.
Oliver explained that he realised the irony of the decision at the time. “If I was just being media savvy, I wouldn’t have moved there when everything was going wrong,” he explained.
“No one really knows why I bought this house.”
The Essex home, where Oliver’s new Channel 4 TV series 5 Ingredient Meals is filmed, has 70 acres of lush lawns, a beautiful old wooden kitchen and a three-bedroom lodge in the woods.
Oliver continued: “There was a whole host of things that were quite specific, quite intimate… I don’t care what anyone thinks. They don’t need to know. It’s an old gaff that’s falling down; only an idiot would buy it..”