My boyfriend hates Jamie Oliver, and I mean really, truly hates. This has lead to some blazing rows, but I know he’s not alone. With some people there seems to be this undercurrent of mistrust, annoyance and just general dislike to everything he does, and quite frankly I can’t understand it.
Why am I telling you this? Well, a couple of weekends ago I was kindly invited by Hannah Norris at Nourish PR to try out the new breakfast menu at Fifteen London. I’d never been to Fifteen before, under the assumption that as celebrity chef restaurant firstly, I couldn’t afford to eat there, and secondly they’d take one look at me and know I couldn’t afford to eat there. It’d be just like that scene in Pretty Woman where she goes shopping, except without me being a prostitute.
However, walking in I was pleasantly surprised. There is not a whiff of pretension about Fifteen, and upstairs in the Trattoria where the breakfast menu is served feels just like a very nice relaxed family restaurant. What there is a whiff of the moment you step through the door, is freshly baked bread and other assorted and equally delightful kitcheny smells. Given I hadn’t eaten yet that day, it’s a wonder I didn’t just start drooling then and there.
Unfortunately, on this rarest of occasions I was early, having failed to account for the Saturday morning lack of traffic. Luckily so was the lovely Jane Mason of Virtuous Bread and we were both introduced to Fifteen’s charming baker in chief Kenny who talked glazes and sourdough rise with Jane while I tried to look like I knew anything about bread at all.
Eventually though everyone arrived and we were lead through to our table. I have to say this was one of the nicest blogger events I’ve ever been to. I don’t often have breakfast at home let alone as a meal out, but this trip made me think that I should do so more. The menu focuses largely on British breakfast classics (no, not cornflakes) and offers everything you could possibly want in a fast breaking meal; from smoothies, juices, Virgin or Bloody Marys, to porridge, things on toast, right up to the Full English.
As a pre-breakfast breakfast we were also given the chance to try some of the first hot cross buns of the season and my they were good! Kenny apparently uses gelatin in the glaze, so I’m not sure if they’d be suitable for vegetarians, but just look how shiny they are! Look at them! Along side these glistening beauties we were given butter and some incredibly pink forced rhubarb and ginger jam, which I could happily have eaten out of the jar with a spoon. It was so good in fact that I asked Kenny for the recipe which he very kindly provided. However as this post is already pretty long I’m going to try it out myself and put that up as a separate post soon.
Of the rest of the food, I went for a pear, blood orange and banana smoothie together with a full English breakfast. The smoothie was really nice although I wouldn’t have necessarily known the blood orange was there. The full English was wonderful too, not too greasy and with the most vibrantly orange yokes, in some the best poached eggs I’ve ever eaten. Looking around the table there were a number of alternative options I could happily have ordered too, for example the brioche “eggy bread” with sweet cured bacon and maple syrup that my dining neighbour enjoyed.
Bellies full, and with our fasts more smashed than broken, we were lead down into the lower restaurant where the higher end evening menu is served; and this is where the start of my post comes in. Up to that point I hadn’t realised that Fifteen isn’t owned by Jamie Oliver but is run as a trading subsidiary of a registered charity, The Jamie Oliver Foundation (no. 1094536). All profits from the restaurant go straight to the charity and are set aside to fund Fifteen’s charitable activities, the main activity being the Apprentice Programme.
I’d heard about the apprentice program before, but I don’t think I’d ever really grasped it’s scope or that the whole of Fifteen was set up as a social enterprise around it. According to our guide it costs around £30,000 to train each apprentice, with 18 new apprentices taken on each year; three more the eponymous first 15. This £30,000 funds a combination of college and in-house training, welfare support, and sourcing trips to top producers. A number I found even more enlightening is that, according to Fifteen’s social report, for every £1 spent on the Apprentice Programme, £9.50 of social value is returned.
So unlike any other restaurant, by eating in Fifteen you are in the simplest terms giving to charity; funding a social enterprise which “uses the magic of food to give unemployed young people a chance to have a better future”, and getting a damn good meal all at the same time.
With all this in mind, and for the sake of this post, I asked my boyfriend to again explain why he hates Jamie Oliver (and thus sparked another blazing row – the things I do for this blog!). His response can be summarised, that he thinks his programs are primarily about self promotion rather than the causes themselves and that he over simplifies, overtly sensationalises and stage manages the issues to create “good TV”. That in the pursuit of this he bullies people, that this bullying is patronising, paternalistic, middle class snobbery and that in this sense he is no better than the likes of Gillian McKeith (or to give her full medical title, Gillian McKeith).
I could go on but I won’t. Time and time again I’ve come back with a response to all of these grievances, but he refuses to change his mind. He hates him and that’s that; I anticipate many more blazing rows on this subject in the future.
However if you feel the same I urge you to check your cynicism for a moment and take another look at everything Jamie has tried to do. Read this interview in the Guardian from last October for a start and tell me he doesn’t care about the issues he champions. It is very easy to criticise, it is a lot harder to see a social problem or perceived injustice and actually stand up, put yourself on the line, and try to do something about it. Jamie doesn’t need to do these shows, or to undertake these missions, and he’d probably have a happier and perhaps even financially richer life if he didn’t. He was already a celebrity chef name before Fifteen, or Jamie’s School Dinners, or the Ministry of Food; however he’s chosen to use his public position and the potential that affords him to push for positive social change.
So, if you have any misgivings about Jamie Oliver’s campaigns please do give him another chance, and while you’re doing so pop in for breakfast at Fifteen. You’ll get a great meal out of it, but unlike any other restaurant you’ll also be contributing to an amazing cause.
Thank you once again to Hannah from Nourish PR and to Fifteen for inviting me to try out their breakfast menu.