Jamie Oliver: Food to ‘make you feel like you’ve had a big hug’

Jamie Oliver is sharing his love for cooking family meals with the publication of Together: Memorable Meals Made Easy, and its accompanying television series. Photograph: Paul Stuart
The celebrity chef on surviving lockdown, a new addition to the Oliver family and his new book – full of tips for those who want to entertain at home

“I’ve got a bit of good news. There is a new member of the Oliver family.” There’s a collective intake of breath among the five European journalists participating in a round table interview with Jamie Oliver, television chef, campaigner, entrepreneur and father of five, as he drops this bombshell. “It’s not a baby, though. We are getting our first dog,” the 46-year-old chef clarifies. “It’s a border collie, Conker, and we get it on Saturday.”

Dog ownership is just one lifestyle change that living through a pandemic has brought for Oliver. “In the last two years I’ve questioned everything. I’ve changed my life quite a bit. I am moving out of London, we’re going to live in Essex.” Home in the country is Spains Hall, a 16th-century estate in Finchingfield, Essex, purchased in 2019 for a reputed £6 million (€7 million) around the same time as Oliver’s UK restaurant empire crumbled with the closure of 22 businesses and the loss of 1,000 jobs.

Previously Jamie, Jools and their children, Poppy (19), Daisy (18), Petal (11), Buddy (10) and River (5), commuted between city and country. “We normally lived in London five days a week, so the kids have changed school, we’ve moved out, and I am just trying to change work and life. I think I need more time for laughter and fun.”

Jamie Oliver. Photograph: Paul Stuart
Jamie Oliver: ‘Food can be meditative, like a ritual, food can make you feel like you’ve had a big hug.’ Photograph: Paul Stuart

The family spent successive lockdowns together in their new home. “Because no one could go anywhere, I had my 18 and my 19 year old very close when they should have been out at festivals, partying. That was a pleasure to have, but we probably wouldn’t want to repeat it,” he says. There was pleasure, too, in cooking at home. “Family helped me massively, having my family close to me and the ritual of cooking. Food can be meditative, like a ritual, food can make you feel like you’ve had a big hug.”

Now, with the publication of Together: Memorable Meals Made Easy, and its accompanying television series, Oliver is sharing the love, inviting groups of family and friends, as well as strangers, people who made significant contributions to the UK’s pandemic efforts, to come together once again around a dining table.

Getting this project across the line, in the midst of constantly changing rules, regulations and restrictions, hasn’t been easy. “The whole series was a massive punt, it could have gone very wrong. When you’re making six shows it’s a lot of money at risk and when we started, it was still illegal to have anyone round at your house. So I had to take a punt, and the head of the TV channel had to take a punt, that we’d be out of lockdown by the time we needed to start filming. It was three days, three days we made it by, and we didn’t even know the week before, so that was kind of interesting.”

If I had a magic wand, if I had a dream, it would be that every child would leave school at 16 knowing how to cook 10 recipes to save their life

The book and the series, filmed at his home, aim to inspire people to cook for guests at home. “I think people are still going to be quite scared to go to busy restaurants, so hopefully people feel inspired to have a party in their own home and make a restaurant in their own home.”

Of the book, which has menus for 18 different occasions, from curry night to laid-back feasts, he says: “It’s there to hold your hand and make sure that when your guests arrive at the party you’re not that person in the kitchen that’s pretending to be happy when you’re not, you’re hot, you’re sweaty, you’re miserable, you’re stressed out.”

He is typically candid when talking about the challenges of involving children in entertaining at home. “How can I say it politely? Depending on where you are in the life cycle of your child, it’s often not that much fun, they can be little bastards.” He says his children aren’t always appreciative of his cooking. “The kids are tough on me, they’re really tough.”

But he is doing his bit to make sure that they all know their way around a kitchen, and 10-year-old Buddy is his scene-stealing cooking partner in the new series. Improving school meals and educating children about food remains a priority; 16 years on from his school dinners campaign, he still has a team of people working on this.

“If I had a magic wand, if I had a dream, it would be that every child would leave school at 16 knowing how to cook 10 recipes to save their life, knowing how to budget, whether they were rich or poor, and knowing about where food comes from and how it affects their body.”

His own life learning is continuing too, influenced by living through the pandemic. “I have learned to be more present, more in the moment. I’ve learned that I don’t need much to be really happy, beautiful things can be simple and small. I’ve learned to be more grateful, for family, for teachers, for the health service, for the postman.”

Together: Three recipes from Jamie Oliver’s new book

Chickpeas, ginger, spices & coconut milk

Serves 6 + 2 leftover portions

Fragrant squash curry chickpeas, ginger, spices & coconut milk. Photograph: David Loftus
Fragrant squash curry. Photograph: David Loftus

1 butternut squash (1.2kg)
olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
4cm piece of ginger
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon medium curry powder
300g ripe cherry tomatoes
2 tinned pineapple rings in juice
1 x 400ml tin of light coconut milk
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas
optional: 2 sprigs of coriander, to serve

Get ahead You can make this on the day, if you prefer. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Scrub the squash (there’s no need to peel it), carefully halve it lengthways and deseed, then chop into 2cm chunks. Place in a roasting tray, toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, then roast for 1 hour, or until soft and caramelized.

Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the onion, peel the garlic and ginger, and dry fry in a non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat with the coriander and fenugreek seeds and the curry powder, stirring until lightly charred all over. Add the tomatoes and pineapple rings (reserving the juice), and cook for 10 minutes to soften and char, stirring regularly. Tip it all into a blender, add the coconut milk and blitz until very smooth. Return to the pan, tip in the chickpeas, juice and all, and simmer gently until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the roasted squash, then season the curry to perfection, tasting and tweaking, and loosening with the reserved pineapple juice. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve Preheat the oven to 150ºC. Place the covered pan of curry in the oven until hot through – about 1 hour. Nice with picked coriander leaves.

Energy 159kcal
Fat 6g
Sat fat 3g
Protein 5g
Carbs 22.6g
Sugars 11.4g
Salt 0.3g
Fibre 5.2g

English mustard, leeks & watercress sauce

Serves 4

Chicken, sausage & bacon puff pie. English mustard, leeks & watercress sauce.Photograph: David Loftus
Chicken, sausage & bacon puff pie. Photograph: David Loftus

2 rashers of higher-welfare smoked streaky bacon
2 free-range chicken thighs (100g each), skin off, bone out
2 higher-welfare sausages
2 leeks
2 small potatoes (100g each)
2 heaped teaspoons English mustard
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
500ml organic chicken stock
500ml semi-skimmed milk
85g watercress
olive oil
320g ready-rolled puff pastry
1 large free-range egg

Get ahead You can do this on the day, if you prefer. Slice the bacon and place in a large shallow casserole pan on a medium heat. Chop the chicken and sausages into 3cm chunks, and add to the pan. Cook until lightly golden, stirring regularly, while you trim and wash the leeks, peel the potatoes, chop it all into 3cm chunks, then stir in with a good splash of water. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the leeks have softened, stirring occasionally, scraping up any sticky bits, and adding an extra splash of water, if needed.

Stir in the mustard and flour, followed by the stock, then the milk. Bring to the boil, simmer for 15 minutes on a low heat, stirring regularly, then season to perfection, tasting and tweaking. Carefully pour everything through a colander to separate the filling from the sauce. Pour the sauce into a blender, add the watercress and blitz until smooth.

Spoon the filling into a 20cm pie dish with 100ml of sauce. Let everything cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Brush the rim of the pie dish with olive oil. Cut the pastry into 2cm-thick strips, using a crinkly pasta cutter if you’ve got one, then arrange over the dish – I like a messy lattice. Eggwash all the pastry, then bake the pie for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is piping hot. Gently heat up the watercress sauce to serve on the side.

Veggie love Peel 500g of root veg of your choice, chop into 2–3cm chunks and cook for 20 minutes with the leeks, potatoes, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the leaves from ½ a bunch of thyme (10g). Use organic veg stock with the milk, top up with 125ml of sauce on assembly, then finish in the same way.

Energy 699kcal
Fat 35.2g
Sat fat 14g
Protein 35.6g
Carbs 60.4g
Sugars 9.2g
Salt 1.8g
Fibre 4.2g

A pleasure to make, this cake is joyous served with a cup of tea – make sure you pack your flask. Any leftovers crumbled over ice cream will also be a treat. I like to make the whole thing on the day, but you can absolutely make the sponge ahead and simply store it in an airtight container overnight.
Serves 16

Tangerine dream cake. Photograph: Levon Biss
Tangerine dream cake. Photograph: Levon Biss

250g soft unsalted butter
250g runny honey
250g self-raising flour
200g ground almonds
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
6 large free-range eggs
4 tangerines
100g icing sugar
optional: natural yoghurt, to serve

On the day Preheat the oven to 180°C and generously grease a 2-litre non-stick bundt tin with butter. Place the remaining butter in a food processor with the honey, flour, almonds, vanilla paste and a pinch of sea salt. Crack in the eggs, finely grate in the tangerine zest (reserving some for garnish) and blitz until smooth. Pour the mixture into the bundt tin, scraping it out of the processor with a spatula, then jiggle the tin to level it out. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, then squeeze and stir in enough tangerine juice to make a thick drizzle. Pour or spoon over the cool cake, easing some drips down the sides in an arty way, then sprinkle over the reserved zest. Peel the remaining tangerines and slice into rounds, to serve on the side. A spoonful of yoghurt also pairs with it very nicely, if you like.

Energy 348kcal
Fat 22.3g
Sat fat 9.3g
Protein 6.9g
Carbs 32.1g
Sugars 20.1g
Salt 0.4g
Fibre 0.6g

Together: Memorable Meals Made Easy, by Jamie Oliver, is published by Penguin Michael Joseph (€24.99). © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2021 Together)