With news of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire collapsing with 1,000 jobs at risk, these are dark times for the UK’s favourite television chef. However, Oliver is about more than profit and the work he has done over the years with disadvantaged youth with his non-profit organisation Fifteen has left a legacy that will outlast any negative headlines.
The Observer reports the thoughts and feeling of a group of chefs who were given their break by Oliver when he set up Fifteen, and there’s a lot of love for their mentor.
The original members of Oliver’s organisations Fifteen were selected to complete internships in Oliver’s kitchen. Coming from disadvantaged backgrounds their progress was filmed and broadcast on Channel 4 in show with the same name. The show was a phenomenal success - of the fifteen interns, 12 completed it (three dropped out), and went on to start a restaurant that was sold out for months.
After 17 years in business and nearly 150 graduates, Fifteen announced it is to close its doors along with 22 Jamie’s Italian restaurants, Barbecoa in London and a Jamie’s Diner in Gatwick airport. Oliver is quoted as saying he is “deeply saddened” by the news.
It’s often market forces that dictate whether a business is successful or not. Sometimes you win in business and sometimes you lose, but helping people, sharing your success and giving back, that can’t ever be taken from you.
“I have a lot of warm memories,” says Anna Jones, food writer, cook and stylist. “Jamie was so hands-on even though his business was blowing up and everyone wanted a piece of him. He was cooking dinner for Prince Charles, for the G20 – that’s why it was so exciting to be in the kitchen with him so much of the time. He was really generous, a friend and a sounding board. If someone had any troubles going on, he would always know and he was there for us. He’s incredibly warm. He’s a busy man and a big deal but even now, if I ask him for advice, his opinion for the cover of a new cookbook or something, he will come back to me on text message quicker than some of my friends do.”
“Jamie himself is such a unique character; over 15 years later I’ve never met anyone like him,” says Tim Siadatan, Chef and founder of restaurants Trullo and Padella. “He has authenticity when it comes to helping people, you could see it back then. I think it speaks volumes that he had the idea to open up a social enterprise in his mid-twenties to help people from different backgrounds and that he’s gone on to do such large campaigns to change the way we think about food. To have that vision and courage and be that generous is rare. I don’t know many people like that who will go out of their way for you.”
“Jamie made us trainees feel like his little siblings – he didn’t pretend to care, he really cared,” says Elisa Roche, Group food director, TI Media. “That pattern went on for years, we all still ask him for advice now. Because of that there is now a network of graduates who live and breathe his caring philosophy. We all try to help each other out and celebrate each other’s successes. Who else can say they have created a sprawling family of hopeful young people from diverse backgrounds, all going out in the world with the intention of doing and sharing good?