Jamie Oliver loves a family Christmas in Essex
PUBLISHED: 12:56 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:30 09 January 2018
From filling the table with great grub to grabbing some time to kick back and relax, an Essex Christmas is all about fun, food and family for kitchen icon Jamie Oliver. Words by Ian Faulconbridge
There are few who carry off an idyllic family Christmas scene like Jamie Oliver – family sat around the fireplace, a light dusting of snow resting on the window pane and a soundtrack boasting festive favourites from Bing Crosby to Wizzard. But the centrepiece of all this is a sumptuous festive feast served up with all the bold generosity you would expect of the host.
‘It looks idyllic when you see the final edit on the telly,’ begins Essex’s most famous food export, whose everyman idiosyncrasies have made him a national treasure akin to spotted dick and Yorkshire puddings.
‘But I can guarantee it’s as chaotic as anyone else’s home on Christmas Day,’ Jamie says with a laugh. ‘That is the real Christmas dinner I’m referring to – you have to consider we film the Christmas specials usually months before, so you do feel something of a fraud when it’s still autumn outside!’
Whatever the mechanics of how Jamie’s family Christmas comes to fruition, there is present a level of passion and vigour that we all aspire to. And that should be expected; after all, since landing in the national consciousness as TV’s Naked Chef from Clavering’s bulging underbelly, this ever-enthused food pioneer has given the world of celebrity cuisine a much-needed reheat.
Decades after he first landed – via a fly-on-the-wall documentary at Hammersmith’s River Café – Jamie is now one of the UK’s most successful foodies, with a net worth that comfortably outstrips many of his peers.
But while family life takes precedence over screen time these days, with that once indie hairstyle now being cooked at something closer to a medium simmer, the enthusiasm that made the 43-year-old a household name is still as endearing as ever.
This was exemplified recently when he commissioned the experts at Land Rover to turn his family 4x4 into a mobile food operation (clearly not factoring in the sudden dip in temperatures which makes any outdoor cuisine a chilly challenge).
‘I gave Land Rover a massive challenge to create the ultimate kitchen on wheels,’ explains Jamie. ‘I dreamed big and asked for a lot, and what they did blew my mind. I didn’t think they’d actually be able to put a slow-cooker next to the engine and an olive oil dispenser in the rear storage space, but they did. This unique creation means we can take our culinary adventures to the next level.’
With other features including a barbecue, herb garden, toaster, butter churners, ice cream maker and customary fold-out cinema screen, to see Jamie pimping his ride in this way may seem a strange diversion to make. At least this foodie son of Essex keeps his festive schedule instantly recognisable.
Need some Christmas cooking inspiration? Jamie has given us a couple of delicious recipes!
‘For me, it’s all about traditional values,’ Jamie admits. ‘I’m a sentimental so and so, and I love that feeling you get on Christmas Day when everyone is buzzing about doing their own thing.
‘At the same time, you know you are all there together, sharing an experience that’s going on around the world – different countries, different people, different cultures, yet billions of us come together in this way, and that’s really magic.’
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it is strictly Jamie who oversees the Christmas kitchen. With the birth of River Rocket last year, the Oliver brood now numbers seven when factoring in the man himself and ‘head of the household’, wife Jools.
But it’s an endeavour that Jamie undertakes with characteristic gusto.
‘I go over the top, of course, but I think everyone should,’ he says. ‘I love all the trimmings, I love Monopoly, the Queen’s Speech, the lot, and, more than at any other time of the year, I like to encourage others to do the same.’
Indeed, if there’s a choice piece of advice the chef wants to dish out to those tackling the turkey this year, it’s that the most traditional Christmas dinner can and should contain one or two gastronomical surprises.
‘Be brave at Christmas!’ he enthuses. ‘A Christmas meal, at its heart, is the ultimate exercise in timing and organisation. When you think about it, what you’re cooking is pretty standard produce, so as long as you master a schedule to cook to, that should allow you the licence to try a few different things to spruce up the festive flow. I want people to be ambitious! Then sit back and let all that festive warmth wash over you.’
This Christmas Jamie should make the most of some rare time off, but he’s not one to relax much. With the ever-present demands of his culinary career and manifold business dealings, once the New Year begins, the chef won’t be getting much more time to sit back.
‘There will always be another project, always another challenge,’ he concedes. ‘But, you know, that’s what keeps me going – that’s what keeps most of us going. If I want to relax I’ll spend a bit of time with the kids, walk around the garden or drink some red wine, but I couldn’t do that all the time!’
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