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Jamie Oliver presents himself as a man of the people, although he does come across as being holier than thou.

Yet, the reality is a bit different.

On May 21, 2019, he made headlines as his restaurant chain went into administration. One thousand jobs are at risk.

On May 22, the BBC reported that staff were less than pleased with the way his managers terminated their employment in Glasgow (emphases mine):

… staff at Jamie’s were still hopeful that a turnaround was on the horizon.

“We knew it wasn’t doing as well as we’d want it to be,” says Lucy, who worked at the Glasgow branch for more than three years.

Staff, she says, were led to believe that a refit was around the corner, and that taps offering Brewdog beer would soon be installed.

Instead, they got a simple email.

“My partner was meant to be on shift this morning,” says Lucy, who asked for her real name not to be used.

“He was told at the last minute not to come in as the locks were being changed.

“We were then invited to join a conference call and told we had all been made redundant, effective immediately.”

Lucy and her partner, who worked at Jamie’s for five years, say they feel there was a lack of transparency at the firm.

“I wish they hadn’t said to us that it was fine, when it obviously wasn’t,” she says.

Oliver says his restaurants were ‘effectively franchises’, meaning that he was not involved with their day to day running. Even so, I am surprised he did not insist that the franchise holders show truth and compassion in informing employees of their situation.

In his documentaries, Oliver has been very critical of people and politicians who do not do right by the ordinary citizen. I thought he would practise what he preaches. Apparently not.

Oliver’s restaurants are not the only British restaurant chain in trouble. Many others are.

I am amazed when I go into London and see shopfront after shopfront occupied by these chains. It isn’t at all sustainable.

There was a time three years ago when we were at the top of the worldwide restaurant boom. No longer.

The aforementioned BBC article says:

Once seen as competitors to Jamie’s, Italian chain Strada is down to just three branches, while Carluccio’s has been forced to close approximately a third of its restaurants, after losing tens of millions of pounds.

Burger brand Byron, French cuisine chain Cafe Rouge, and pizza outlet Prezzo aren’t faring much better.

Lucy says the writing is on the wall for restaurant chains:

The market for chain restaurants is dying – there are loads of places you can go in Glasgow that are cheaper.

That’s great news, because I prefer eating at family-owned restaurants. London used to have a lot, but rising rates and leases put many out of business.

Family-owned establishments often try harder. Their lives depend on it.

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Memo to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his mate Jamie Oliver: please let people enjoy their food.  It is our final frontier of pleasure.

Unlike you, we don’t earn great salaries making television programmes, swanning around the world or writing cookbooks.  We don’t have repeat contracts with Channel 4 telling the great unwashed how and what to eat.  For most people in Britain and elsewhere in the West, food is a palliative from the strain of everyday life.

You chaps are above all this, but the rest of us have to live with the daily onslaught of money flying out — rather than in — the door:

Quantitative easing means that the currency is suffering due to the fact that owing to so much of it being in circulation, granted we’re not at the Zimbabwe stage, but it is still having an effect. Energy bills too are way too high simply because of the government’s “green” policies whereby we’re subsidising inefficient, unworkable and expensive solutions due to the Climate Change Act infamously passed by the House of Commons in October 2008 by 463 votes to three, whilst it was snowing outside. By the Government’s own estimate, it would cost £404 billion to implement – £760 per household every year for four decades.

And now Hugh is telling us to stop eating meat and start getting stuck into vegetarian meals.  And this coming Sunday Jamie will start a new series telling us how England has ‘always’ been a ‘mongrel’ society and will demonstrate it through cooking.

Right, Jamie — take a look at haplogroups in Britain: a matter which is still up for further study and debate.  (Yes, our history does show some genetic differences because of invading Roman or Germanic groups as well as later immigration, but we are hardly the genetic melting pot that one sees in the United States, which was built on large waves of colonisation and immigration.)  Having seen how condescendingly you treat dinner ladies and humble families of Anglo-Saxon descent here and in the US, I wonder how much you actually value Britain.  I have no respect for someone who appears to think his own people are beneath him.

Watching Hugh’s show on Sunday was nothing short of depressing. That will probably be the final Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall show we ever watch here in the mousehole.

We’re finished with you banging on in that happy-go-lucky passive-aggressive way of yours, ‘encouraging’ your staff to join with you on this new-found vegetarian quest to save the planet.  Was it really encouragement or was it more coercion with a black mark against the name of anyone who refused?

Hugh and two vegetarian cooks, friends of his, took a vegetarian lunch out to a building site near London’s Kings Cross – St Pancras railway station.  They were amazed that the construction workers ate it!  Seeing as there was nothing else on offer — and that it was free of charge — of course they did.  Most offered polite, positive feedback.  Of course they did: they were wearing vests and such with their company’s name on them, so they were representing their employer.  One quietly said that the lunch was no substitute for meat.

There is a reason why manual workers — whether in construction, farming or other occupations — have historically eaten meat.  They need the animal protein for energy in order to do physically demanding jobs day after day.

There is a reason why women and children have historically eaten meat.  They need animal protein to stay healthy.  This was especially true before central heating became commonplace.  It is also true today, as many families are turning down the thermostat because they can’t afford the high gas bills.

I have no problem with people choosing to become vegetarian.

However, I do have a problem with Hugh, an Old Etonian gentleman farmer from a well-off family who says that we’re too attached to eating meat.  He might not have used those exact words, but the programme clearly puts that message across.

My gut instinct is that Hugh has a political purpose for his message which is to get us middle-class folk to cut back even further — at a time when our budgets are squeezed to the max.  Hugh’s congenial manner will probably dupe many.  I hope not.

The lunch that Hugh had with his vegetarian cook friends at their gaff was probably at least the price of a meat-oriented one, if not more.  The exotic, imported chi-chi ingredients must have cost quite a lot, making a free-range chicken at a supermarket look quite the bargain.

For an international study of animal proteins in various cultures, see my post on the Weston A Price Foundation.  For a New Testament perspective, read what Jesus had to say (Mark 7).

Here in the UK Channel 4 is broadcasting Jamie Oliver’s Los Angeles Food Revolution over the next few weeks.

Those visiting this blog regularly will know that I am not exactly a fan of Mr Oliver’s, although I admit that his earlier series from the 1990s were quite useful for making rustic dinners on the hop.  I still use many of his shortcuts and flavour combinations.

In his latest Food Revolution, Jamie meets with strong opposition from the school board which is about to shut his programme down entirely.  But our beestung-lipped chef and entrepreneur also has other irons in the fire, namely restaurateur Deno Perris of Patra’s, which sells charbroiled fast food to a loyal clientele.

Deno’s father started Patra’s from nothing.  Deno inherited the business when his father died.  Characteristic of many Greek restaurant owners, he wants to make people happy and finds that the best way is through good, home-cooked food.  Deno has a small diner with takeaway and drive-thru sections.

One of my better childhood memories is eating in large Greek-owned restaurants that served all the time-honoured American favourites.  They have mostly disappeared now but used to be in all major American cities right near the best shopping areas and theatre districts.  They had lengthy menus and it really did take a quarter of an hour to decide what to have!  The portions were huge, delicious and very reasonably priced.  Ahhh — happy days, happy days!  But I digress.

So far, Jamie has persuaded Deno to start offering the same or similar dishes but with lower-calorie yet equally flavoursome ingredients.  Deno must decide if he should put what his father taught him to the back of his mind and entertain ideas from Jamie, a glib stranger.

All credit to him, Deno does limited experiments incorporating Jamie’s suggestions.  And, of course, because we’re in televisionland, Jamie needs to show us how successful they were.  Naturally, episode three shows us all sorts of people entering Patra’s and walking out happy customers. Crowd manufacture?  Who knows? At the end, a registered nurse collars Deno and tells him how grateful she is that he is incorporating healthful foods into his menu.  It did not seem as if she was a regular customer, just an opportunistic nudger.

How did she get there?  Probably through informal community organisers like Jamie and his crew.  ‘Quick, we need a nurse involved in dietetics and nutrition to talk to this guy.’

Jamie Oliver is all about community organising and nudging.  Every time I watch him I hope he fails miserably.  He should just leave people to get on with their lives and focus on his own.  But no, he has to interfere.  If you want to find out why nudging irritates so many people in the US and the UK, look no further than his programmes.

Another nudger is Sofia, the student in Jamie’s class at West Adams High School.  She meets privately with Deno and Jamie.  Her story is different, because one of her sisters contracted Type 2 diabetes as a young woman.  Their parents are also diabetic.  Naturally, Sofia worries as she often has to care for them and wonders if they can ever truly get their conditions under control.  Intimations of mortality loom large for her, understandably.

Yet, and it’s unclear whether it was Sofia herself or Jamie and his film crew who put this into her mind, she told Deno that it was because of people like him that her sister and parents have diabetes.  Deno was visibly saddened.  He did attempt polite, reasoned resistance but to no avail.  She became more assertive in making her point.  However, neither she nor her family had ever been … customers of Deno’s.

It’s worth noting that radio personality Ryan Seacrest, who interviewed Deno on the air, also produced this series.  Interesting.  Wheels within wheels. And Sofia’s dad still prepares fried meals twice a week at home.

But Deno has the right outlook: Deno and other diner owners are not forcing people to eat in their establishments.  And if the food isn’t right, people will just stop coming in.  Then he and his fellow restaurateurs will lose their businesses and their staff will also be out of jobs.  Then what?

People go out to eat because it’s fun and it’s a treat.  I agree that some rely too much on short-order cooking.  But the world is the way it is.  Presumably, Sofia is cooking healthfully for her family when she can.  And that’s where all good habits should start — in the home — not at Deno’s restaurant or at school or in church. It’s just common sense.  Healthy eating didn’t start yesterday.  Women have known for generations that you shouldn’t eat too much fat and sugar.  They didn’t need a Jamie Oliver for that.

We cannot help the lack of self-discpline that some folks have.  But let’s not penalise and control everyone so that all we eat are veggie burgers and soya shakes.  Ugh.  What a dire world that would be.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Deno and his family — as was his father — are all of normal proportions, from what I could see.  (The shot of Deno’s family was brief.)  So, eating fast food or short-order cooking is not an evil in and of itself.

It’s difficult minding one’s own business.  It’s a lot easier poking one’s nose where it shouldn’t be.  Jamie really should resist the temptation.

Of what we put into our mouths, Jesus said:

18 “… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18-20)

The Telegraph (UK) featured a few interesting headlines before New Year, which is surprising, as papers largely feature ‘best of’ headlines and a year in review.

The Royal Family have released yet more unseen photographs from Her Majesty’s childhood.  Marcus Adams photographed the then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret with their parents, the late George VI and the Queen Mother.  The three pictures shown in the article are not to be missed. Gordon Rayner, writing for the Telegraph, discusses Marcus Adams:

Mr Adams, who died in 1959, set up a Children’s Studio in London in 1920 and quickly became one of the country’s most renowned photographers of children.

He filled his studio with toys and even disguised his camera as a toy cabinet to put his subjects at ease. His studio, which contained no visible cameras, lights or other equipment, was described by him as “a bright and very happy play room” and used a long cable to press the shutter so he did not have to disappear behind the camera.

He once described photography as “ninety-five per cent psychology and only five per cent mechanical”.

Chef Jamie Oliver describes the reality of his family life with his wife, former model Jools, and four children:

The couple celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary earlier this year and had their fourth child in September. Jools Oliver has previously talked about struggling to cope with loneliness when the chef is away with work.

In 2005, he vowed to quit public life within three years to spend more time with his wife and children. But his profile has continued to grow.

“I’m so tired. Four kids are really hard work,” he says.

“I’ve been with my Mrs since I was 18-years-old and she just never left so we just thought we might as well get married.

“There’s a natural sort of tempo to having a relationship and it’s not brilliant all the time but it goes through lovely cycles.”

I’m trying hard not to comment.  Regular readers of this blog know that I am no fan of Oliver’s.  About his fans, he told BBC Radio 5:

‘It wasn’t just young girls [throwing themselves at me], it was medium and young girls and it was classic slightly rock star-esque: random knickers and bras getting thrown at you.

‘When The Naked Chef kicked off it was a bit like a pop band. The memories of it were absolutely ballistically crazy…’

How long ago was The Naked Chef — mid-1990s?  Also, what is a ‘medium’ girl — a young woman, perhaps?  But the most incredible line was about four kids being hard work.  Imagine what Jools  must experience with her husband not only at work but away, if not out of the country, for days or weeks at a time!

Across the pond, Americans will enjoy a hiatus from Kennedys in political office.  I expect this to be temporary, nonetheless, it is a historical marker:

The departure of Patrick Kennedy, Congressman for Rhode Island, will leave the capital without a Kennedy for the first time in 64 years. The dynasty’s sole remaining political office is held by Bobby Shriver, John F. Kennedy’s nephew, who has a part-time city council seat in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica ...

Mr Shriver first entered politics because of fines he and his neighbours received over the height of their hedges. He was mayor of Santa Monica and worked on aid to Africa with the singer Bono. His mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics.

As ever with the Kennedys, there remains speculation about others who could relight the dynastic flame. Some Democrats hope that Patrick Kennedy’s brother Edward Kennedy Jnr, a Connecticut lawyer, will run for Congress.

His stepmother Vicki Kennedy, Senator Edward Kennedy’s widow, has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 against Scott Brown, the Republican who captured her late husband’s seat in one of the biggest political upsets of 2010.

Joe Kennedy, eldest son of Senator Robert Kennedy and a former congressman, has also been mentioned as a possible challenger to Mr Brown. Most recent Kennedy campaigns have failed however. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her bid to become Governor of Maryland in 2002 while Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, initially sought to take over Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009.

She withdrew herself from consideration for “personal reasons” after a series of disastrous media episodes, including one in which she said the words “you know” 168 times in a 30-minute local television interview.

Enjoy it while it lasts.  To paraphrase in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’ll be back …

Channel 4 in the UK has just finished showing the six-part Jamie’s Food Revolution, which documented Jamie ‘The Naked Chef’ Oliver’s attempt to get residents in Huntington, West Virginia, to improve their eating habits.

What follows is my open letter to Mr Oliver:

Jamie, I do wish that we knew each other so that I could have sat down with you before you filmed this documentary. Growing up, I lived in small- to mid-size towns and cities across America (my dad got transferred frequently, part of his job).  I know first-hand how many residents are friendly yet reserved to ‘outsiders’, people who haven’t lived there for three or four generations, as they have.

I can also tell you that you’d better say you like a lot of what you find in that town or else you’ll get an earful.  That means you don’t barge in, all guns blazing, to tell people whom you’ve never seen before that they’re fat, ignorant and in need of ‘change’.

I’ve seen almost all your documentaries and cooking shows in full, starting with The Naked Chef in the 1990s.  Yep, you were a cute, skinny Essex boy then.  Now, you’re a bit heavier, older and more like an experienced community organiser working a town.  (Hint: the ‘community organiser’ bit isn’t a compliment.)

It’s no surprise then that WDGG (‘The Dawg’) Radio‘s Rod Willis reacted the way he did to you. (Photo at left courtesy of — Jamie, Rod and radio sidekick Rocky.) Ditto dinner lady Alice Gue.  I met a lot of Rods and Alices when I was growing up.  They’re just regular folk telling you home truths in an uncompromising way. And what did you do but cry because they had the temerity to … disagree with you? Pull your socks up, mate.

You were fortunate in that Rod eased up on you during the 1,000-resident cooking session which appeared on Good Morning America.  But I do agree with him when he told Huntington News Net after the series premiere in March 2010:

I should have been a little more receptive to the [nutritious] things he was talking about and a little more cruel to him. I don’t think Jamie Oliver should be the one to tell us how to live our lives. After all, this guy is a rich, British b——d.

(That he is, Rod — a multi-millionaire several times over who lives in Primrose Hill in London now, well-shielded from fat people.)

Jamie, how much did you know about Huntington before you went there, other than an obesity statistic?  How much do you know about the history of the Appalachians?  I lived across the river from another city in West Virginia for a summer.

To get there, I crossed the Appalachians by car with my parents in the 1960s.  I know the conditions people were living in then.  They were dignified, God-fearing people from British stock who lived in dilapidated shacks. While all of President Johnson’s special funding was going towards the inner cities, these people had nothing.  They had to rely on growing their own basic crops on a tiny plot, raising a few chickens and were probably lucky to have meat once a week. I saw many women on foot carrying boxes of charity shop clothes from their nearest small town back to their shacks a few miles away. There was little industry in the parts we went through and few jobs.  It really was like Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Okay, I realise Huntington is a city, but how many people there have their roots going back to the mountains?  If you think about it, we may be seeing the first couple of generations for whom food — thankfully — hasn’t been an issue.  Granted, the type of fare on offer hasn’t been the best, as we saw from some of the youngsters and their parents featured in your show.  However, I would have suggested delving into the psyches and backgrounds of people like the Edwards family before hauling them off to the hospital for checkups.   Food means different things to different people.  I think you would have been surprised at the answers you would have received … if only you had cared enough to ask.

Incidentally, I contrasted the way you treated the people of Huntington with the way you acted towards the people in your inner-city television series.  Remarkable.  It didn’t matter that your inner-city ‘mates’ ate deep-fried food, did it?  No, that’s because those recipes came from their grandmothers.  It didn’t matter, did it, that they were still high-calorie, fat-laden dishes?  Apparently not.  Then you told us that the United States had stolen land which rightfully belonged to Mexico and that it should be given back.  Fair enough, you can air your views (again, you’re missing some history there), but there was no such empathy for something as simple as eating habits of the residents in Huntington, was there?  Even if some of those schoolkids were probably on the same socio-economic level as their inner-city counterparts.

And how could you expect those first-year students to know what an aubergine (eggplant) was?  Or what peas in a pod looked like?  Even in the most middle-class of supermarkets, they aren’t even on offer most of the time apart from on the East or West Coast.

So, no, I’m not surprised that Rod Willis and Alice Gue were offhand with you, even though they probably never watched one of your series. And you should have taken it like a man.  They weren’t being nasty to you as you alleged, just honest.

Let’s look at things from Alice’s perspective, shall we? (Jamie, I’ve borrowed a photo from your website to show the folks who Alice is — the lady in black.) In one episode, Alice expressed concern that she and the other dinner ladies would need to come in earlier to begin preparing meals for no extra pay.  Funny that, because I remember the English dinner ladies saying the same thing during your school lunch crusade this side of the pond.   Either that, or they would have to try to get some extra help in the kitchen.  Do you realise those costs need to be factored in to a school’s or a council’s budget — months in advance?  It didn’t seem to me in either case that you cared too much.

What’s more, rules in the United States for what goes on a child’s school lunch tray are remarkably bureaucratic.  And, yes, French fries do count as a vegetable. I’m not sure whether ketchup still does. I watched in amazement as you expected the rules to be bent and budgets to suddenly be increased just because … you asked?  The best scene for me was at the end as the ineffably polite lady in charge of local school food services, Rhonda McCoy, and the superintendent of schools suggested you discuss matters with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).  Why did that take you by surprise?

What Jamie’s Food Revolution showed us was yet another facet to your personality — the man who cannot bear to hear the word ‘no’.  You want to change the eating habits of certain people — not all, mind — and you go in swaggering and matey but don’t know a thing about where you’re going or with whom you’re dealing.  Many viewers saw a display of pride and arrogance which we certainly didn’t see in your inner-city series.

Maybe you and your dad should have a bit of a father-son chat concerning how you go about making these shows.  I’ve picked up a lot of useful culinary short-cuts from you over the years, but sometimes your desire to ‘change’ — not to mention control — some people and not others leaves me wondering about you and your motives.

Humility in all things, Jamie — humility.  Not to mention patience.  And a bit of understanding.

On that note, Cabell Huntington Hospital has just pledged another $50,000 towards your programme.

For further reading:

Jamie’s Food Revolution USA

‘Huntington Still Welcomes Jamie Oliver’Huntington News Network

‘West Virginia eats Jamie Oliver for breakfast’The Independent

‘Can Jamie Oliver Really Start a Food Revolution in Huntington, WV?’Huffington Post

‘Can Jamie Oliver Convince Americans to Eat Well?’Newsweek

‘The Food Issue — Jamie Oliver Puts America’s Diet on a Diet’New York Times

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