Jamie Oliver really needs no introduction – there are fewer names more synonymous with everything from healthy eating to comfort food but his. As he celebrates the opening of his latest restaurant, the upmarket Barbecoa on Piccadilly, we chat to him about everything from primal cooking (come on, we’ve all seen him construct his own smoker in his back garden and make pasta in the back of a van) to this year’s biggest food trends. Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered if he could only eat one meal for the rest of his life what it would be then you’re about to find out…
Why did you choose Piccadilly for the new Barbecoa?
Piccadilly is probably one of the most sought after postcodes in the country. We loved the idea of putting Barbecoa there. Barbecoa is a really special thing; the food is so lovingly crafted, but super simple in its aim. It’s the most incredible meat and steak, with incredible sides, desserts and starters. We are never going to have many Barbecoa’s – so have one in Piccadilly absolutely felt like a flagship opportunity. Every single person that walks downstairs says ‘oh my God, wow’. So we know we’ve achieved the wow factor, and I’m really proud of that.
What can we expect at the Piccadilly site that will make it different to St. Paul’s?
The St Paul’s Barbecoa is all about looking out of the massive windows – and taking in that beautiful view, whereas Piccadilly is all about looking in. It’s about the atmosphere. It’s elegant and it feels like it’s from a time that’s been and gone. It’s an old building which used to have a restaurant in it, but everyone’s forgotten it was ever there. It’s really nice to put that energy back in the building again.
London is loving grilled meats at the moment, why do think this ancient way of cooking is suddenly so popular?
Well, when we first opened Barbecoa over seven years ago, it was about primal cooking – using wood, charcoal, fruit-woods and smoke to get awesome flavours. We really wanted to celebrate ancient cooking from around the world – Italian wood-ovens, Japanese robatas, Argentinian grills, Texan smokers, tandoors from India. What a joy to have it all in one kitchen!
I think people are realising that electric and stainless steel ovens are efficient, but quite boring. And actually smoke and fire are almost like the third seasoning – fire and smoke transforms a simple piece of chicken or beef into something extraordinary. And I like that!
Any big food trends you predict for 2017?
Trends are sort of the bane of my life, but I also love the way everything evolves! I still think there’s going to be some interest in the Ottoman countries and Persia, and all their gorgeous, delicate spices. I think that area’s really interesting and still emerging slowly in the restaurants. I think pop-ups will continue to be huge because it’s still tough out there to run a successful restaurant, and pop-ups are more dynamic and experimental – with less risk attached. I also think Peruvian, Mexican, Icelandic and Nordic cooking are going to be front of mind.
You have a day off in London, where do you go?
It depends what day of the week! At the weekend it’s pretty hard to resist any of the major parks – Primrose Hill, Regents Park, Kensington Park – they’re amazing and they’re so well cared for! I love a good walk – and there’s loads of really interesting restaurants, coffee bars and ice cream parlours for the kids around the parks. Also the canals are brilliant.
If you weren’t a chef what was Plan B?
If I wasn’t a chef, I would’ve loved to have been a carpenter or something like that. Something where you take raw product and craft it. That’s basically what the plan was.
Most memorable moment in your career?
There’s been a few, but when we got the government to change the law around what we feed kids in schools – that was pretty amazing. Getting the BAFTA for the School Dinners documentary was awesome – we had such support from the public.
The sugary drinks tax last year was another massive moment. For me, it really proves that telling stories and involving the public has power. When things are right and backed up by science, you can make change and you can take monies from one industry and put them into others that are much more deserving and for us, of course the sugary drinks tax in primary schools, in school food education and school sports is really really important. There’s kind of a lot and I’m blessed with those nice moments.
You pay an interest in nurturing young talent, is there anyone you are particularly proud to have worked with or who we should keep an eye out for?
It’s a sign I’m getting a little bit older, as there’s quite a lot of them out there now! And they are getting to the height of their career now. Whether it’s ex-students or ex-employees there are some really great cooks out there. As far as people to look out for, keep your eye on Robbin Holmgren (Fifteen), Jon Rotheram (The Marksman Pub) Tim Siadatan (Trullo restaurant)
Do you get the final say on all the menus in your restaurants or are the chefs free to do what they like?
Generally speaking, I write all the menus – with the exception of Fifteen which changes constantly so it’s best left to evolve through the seasons. But it is important that all our chefs work in a place where they can be creative and can use their talents and strengths – we have daily specials and a specials board in all the restaurants. I think it’s that fine balance of making the most of talent in the kitchen, and staying on top of the menu across the brand. My job is to give my audience what they want to eat, but with a few surprises here and there!
Do any of your restaurants have a particularly special place in your heart?
The first ones always stand out. So Fifteen is super special – it’s 15 years old now and it’s a beautiful place, with a lovely heart and soul. It’s been an amazing journey. I still don’t think there’s anything else in London like Barbecoa in St Pauls, it’s unique. And Jamie’s Italian in Oxford – I was there last week – it feels really, really special as that was the first one.
When you’re not at your own restaurants, where in London do you like to dine?
I don’t go out as much as you might think, but if I do it’s probably to somewhere like the River Cafe, The Delaunay, Padella, Trullo, the Chophouse in St John’s, Lyle’s.
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
That’s so hard, but it would have to be my mum’s full monty roast dinner with all the trimmings.
And finally, we are at Barbecoa for one time only, what should we order?
Well you definitely have to have some beef on the bone, on one of our grills. Hit it up with all the sides and just let your hair down on desserts and starters. They’re there to really bookend the incredible meat and they’re really finely done, with a bit of humour, they’re slightly extravagant and eccentric.
Barbecoa Piccadilly is open now, read our review of those amazing steaks here
Check out the other great foodies we’ve met up with here
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