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Jamie Oliver on why brunch is his favourite meal and how cooking brings families together

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Lockdown made Jamie Oliver realise that more than anything, the thing his readers crave is togetherness. (PHOTO: Paul Stuart)
Lockdown made Jamie Oliver realise that more than anything, the thing his readers crave is togetherness. (PHOTO: Paul Stuart)

In this fun interview the much-loved British chef chats about how lockdown has changed his attitude to food and life - and how this inspired his new TV show and cookbook, Together, which has one of the yummiest roast chicken recipes ever!

Why is this book particularly important this year?

I think being stuck at home, which a lot of people have been, has made us question what’s really important. I know for a lot of people, myself included, slowing down a bit has been a good thing. 

It’s encouraged us to embrace the little things in life that bring us pleasure, and I know food has brought a lot of people great joy. Whether that’s cooking for the first time, learning a new skill (sourdough craze, I’m looking at you!) or simply finding ways to mix up your everyday repertoire. It’s been a great reminder that sitting around the table to eat together is a very special thing. Yes of course, a lot of us are keen to get out into the world again and support our local restaurants, but alongside that, showing your nearest and dearest how much you care by cooking up a storm in the intimacy of your own home, which has been off limits for so long, will feel so comforting, safe and memorable.

How has the last year changed the way you view cooking for others?

Cooking is an expression of love. So many cultures around the world believe that and it’s true. Investing your time to prepare and dish up incredible food, cooked from scratch, really means something to people, and I can’t wait to see how everyone responds to the book and which meals really resonate with people. 

Tell us about your new book, Together?

I mean, the word Together just conjures up so much feeling now, doesn’t it? It’s what we’ve all missed and longed for, to be with our family, friends and community again after all the events over the past year.

My new book is a real celebration of great food that you can share with your loved ones. But it’s about more than food – it’s about making memories. I see my job here to make it as easy as possible for you to get ahead, plan and cook up extraordinary food, in such a way that you can enjoy maximum time with your guests.

From get-ahead tips to veggie swaps, I think I’ve covered all the bases. At a time when ordering food at the click of a button is so easy, there’s something really very special about caring enough to spend time and effort cooking for those you love.

How is the book structured?

Every chapter is a meal, because I often get asked what stuff goes together well, so I wanted to give you really solid ideas for how to create a whole meal. I’ve even put a little menu at the start of each chapter so you can take a photo of it and send it to your guests in advance, if you like.

Saying that, just because I’ve written each chapter to be a meal doesn’t mean you have to cook up all of the recipes – you can absolutely swap in your own favourites, or pick and choose the elements that work for you.

I’ve got 18 really wonderful meals for you, that I’m very proud of, that mean a lot to me, and that I’ve enjoyed with my own friends and family. And a little bonus chapter on cocktails, because we all deserve a little treat, right?

What makes this book different from your previous ones?

My actual writing style in this book is quite unique. I’ve structured the recipes into three categories – "get ahead", "on the day" and "to serve" – making it really clear exactly how to approach each recipe.

I’m also really excited about the photography. I worked with three of my favourite photographers and we’ve been much more indulgent on the amount of pictures that have made it into the book, which means it’s a really good one to flick through with a cuppa and your feet up.

I’ve done a photo inspiration spread for every meal, giving you ideas for how to set the table and serve up, as well as step-by-step pictures where relevant, and just some good old beauty shots of amazing ingredients. The family pop up a few times, too, which is always fun.

Your son Buddy is a great little chef himself. Does he enjoy helping out when preparing for a family get-together?

Buddy is such an asset in the kitchen and he’s been getting amongst it since he was really little. His knife skills are getting really good now.

He’s always happy to help out, and to be honest, all the kids have had their moments. Poppy and Daisy are out doing their own thing a lot now but when they were younger they’d always be picking herbs and helping with jobs here and there – Petal’s the same. And River, well if there’s music playing and he can dance while he helps you, he’s there!

For an impromptu meal with friends and family, which dish do you always turn to for something quick and delicious that will still impress your guests?

I don’t think you can go far wrong with a roast chicken, and there’s so much you can do with them, so many different ways you can go on the flavour front. Also, the oven does all the hard work, so that always helps.

I’ve put a last-minute style feast in the book actually that’s Italian inspired and a really great principle to follow. For starters, you jazz up a load of those shop-bought antipasti, creating an epic spread, then I’ve done a really simple yet elegant pasta for the main, using one of my favourite shortcuts – cutting up fresh lasagne sheets to mimic fresh pasta. It’s such a good timesaver. A nice cocktail or two, and you’re onto a winner.

What is your favourite recipe/chapter from the book and why?

And your next question is going to be, which is your favourite child? That’s how it feels, you asking me to choose! They’re all so different and unique in their own way – the kids and the chapters!

I love the brunch chapter, so I put that first in the book – there’s something so satisfying about getting together in the morning and having a laidback meal. I love the taco party, a riot of flavour and colour, and the curry night is really good, too.

Then there are meals with epic centrepieces or knockout desserts that I also really love. You’re just going to have to buy the book and have a read.

What are you most looking forward to celebrating when you get together with loved ones this year?

Now that’s a big question! Me and Jools celebrated 20 years of marriage last summer, and we were planning on a big old knees up, so I hope we’ll be able to do that at some point and get all the old crew out of the woodwork.

I’m really just excited about having all the family back over – there’s quite a lot of us with my mum and dad, Jools’ mum and her fella, and all the siblings and their kids. A proper family party, that’s what we need. Hugging, cuddling, laughing and, ultimately, just all being in the same space.

SOURCE: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

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