Aside from his popularity for being a celebrated chef, Jamie is also a well-known food activist, most notable for promoting healthy, home grown ingredients for cooking food in his television shows and books. He started the “Better School Food” campaign, which aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of eating natural, unprocessed food by promoting healthy food servings in schools.
One notable trait of Jamie is his extraordinary positive outlook in life. Jamie has been bashed and ridiculed by many critics and even fellow chefs, yet he remains very polite and rarely answers the criticisms that are thrown against him. This has caused him to earn the respect of many of his critics and has thrust him further in his career as a world-renowned chef.
8-Year-Old Jamie Starts Cooking in Their Restaurant
Jamie’s interest and finesse for cooking started early, way back when he was still a child. Born in the village of Clavering, Essex in 1975, Jamie is the son of Trevor and Sally Oliver, owners of the locally popular pub called “The Cricketers.” Due to the popularity of the pub, Jamie became fascinated with how dishes were cooked and often accompanied his parents in the kitchen. Jamie’s father took him as an apprentice and around the age of eight, Jamie was already cooking some of the food that was served in the pub.
One issue that surfaced regarding Jamie’s ancestry was his ‘alleged’ Sudanese heritage, which he stated during an interview in 2009. According to the interview, Jamie claimed to be part Sudanese through his great-great grandfather John, who Jamie described to be “a bit swarthy with curly hair.” As a response to this, the “Sunday Express,” a local newspaper company, launched a research to verify Jamie’s claims.
They concluded that John had little to no Sudanese blood, as his father, James, and grandfather, Richard, were Cornish, hailing from Penzance. The paper attributed the Sudanese ancestry of Jamie to have had originated in the 19th century, when his great-great grandfather John Oliver returned from Africa with a tanned complexion.
By age 11, Jamie’s skills in cooking were already at par with those of the kitchen staff. His increased fascination and devotion for food also enabled him to start creating his own dishes, which surprised not only his parents but everyone in the pub as well.
Jamie Leaves Regular School to Become a Chef
Even while studying at Newport Free Grammar School, Jamie began to shift his focus from his studies into his passion of food-making, so by the age of 16, he decided to leave school completely to pursue a career in the food-making industry. Prior to this, while he was 14, Jamie formed and was temporarily a part of the band Scarlet Division, where he played music with his friend composer and musician Leigh Haggerwood.
After leaving school with two GCSE qualifications, Jamie enrolled in Westminster Kingsway College at the Catering school. His training was somewhat of a ‘walk in the park,’ due to Jamie’s extensive training as a chef in his parents’ kitchen. After completing his training, Jamie earned a City & Guilds National Vocational Qualification in home economics. He left England for France soon afterwards to further increase his knowledge in cooking, learning as much as he can.
Upon his return to England, Jamie took a post at the Neal Street Restaurant (owned by the famous Antonio Carluccio) as a pastry chef, working under his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo. The two immediately started a friendly working relationship, with Gennaro often taking more interest in Jamie’s improvement. Jamie soon became the head pastry chef and further improved his skills in cooking—thanks to the devotion of his mentor.
After leaving the Neal Street Restaurant, Jamie applied at the popular River Café in London and was accepted as a sous chef, working with well-known chefs, such as Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. In his three and a half years stay at the River Café, Jamie learned “all about the time and effort used to produce the freshest and most delicious food.” It was also in River Café that Jamie had the opportunity to appear in a television show, which would later on become his door to fame.
Jamie appeared in an unscripted role at a documentary made about the River Café in 1997 entitled “Christmas at the River Café.” Barely a week after the documentary was aired, Jamie began receiving calls from five television companies, offering him to host his own cooking show.
The Naked Chef Show and Cookbook
After some careful thought, Jamie accepted the offer from Optomen Television and “The Naked Chef” was born in 1998. Jamie chose the title as a reference to the simplicity of the way he makes food, by stripping it down to its barest essentials. Soon after its debut, The Naked Chef became one of the most watched television shows in the United Kingdom.
Jamie’s laid back perspective on cooking food as well as his hands-on style proved to be a ‘breath of fresh air’ to many households in the United Kingdom and the United States (where the show was also aired), inspiring most of the viewers to cook their own food. Because of the show’s extreme popularity, it won the BAFTA Award for Best Television Series in the Features Category in 2000.
Jamie also released The Naked Chef cookbook alongside his television show. Published by Penguin Books, the cookbook quickly became number one on the UK bestseller list and sold over a million copies in just a short time. The success of his cookbook led to the publishing of Jamie’s second and third books, “The Return of the Naked Chef,” and “Happy Days with the Naked Chef,” which were also bestsellers and even became the top non-fiction book at the 2001 Christmas chart.
In 1999, Jamie and his 15 culinary students were given the honor of preparing lunch for the then serving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Italian Prime Minister. According to those who were present at the lunch, the Italian Prime Minister remarked how the food was among the best he had ever tasted in his life.
The year 2000 saw a further boost in Jamie’s career as he entered into a contract with Sainsbury, the largest chain of supermarkets in the United Kingdom, as their main endorser for a salary of two million dollars a year. The following year, Jamie started the Happy Days tour, which featured him cooking throughout various locations in the United Kingdom. The tour was a success, with crowds packing the theaters and tickets being sold out.
Not only was 2000 great because of the success of his career, but also because Jamie finally got married. In July, Jamie Oliver and Juliette Norton got married after a few years of intimate relationship with each other. Juliette bore Jamie four children: Poppy Honey Rosie (born in 2002), Daisy Boo Pamela (born in 2003), Petal Blossom Rainbow (born in 2009), and Buddy Bear Maurice (born in 2010).
By the end of 2001, Jamie decided that he had to give back to the catering industry that launched him to success. He started a program which he named “Fifteen,” where he takes in 15 students every year who had no jobs, had disadvantaged or criminal histories, and trains them to become skilled chefs who he believes would make their mark in the cooking industry one day. The first 15 students who graduated from the program went on to work at Jamie’s first restaurant, which was also called Fifteen.
The documentary of their training was released as a five-part series entitled “Jamie’s Kitchen,” which was broadcast by Channel 4. Upon its release, the show and the restaurant received numerous accolades and awards, which gave birth to the “Return to Jamie’s Kitchen” show the following year. In 2003, Jamie was conferred the Member of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to the food industry.
Jamie’s restaurant, Fifteen, has grown into multiple franchises since its inception, opening in Amsterdam, Cornwall, and Melbourne. The Fifteen charitable foundation has also grown exponentially and is currently on its fourth batch of students.
In 2002, Jamie’s show “Oliver’s Twist” debuted. The show followed Jamie in his shopping for the best food ingredients in London and cooking it at home for his friends. Since its inception, the show has garnered multiple awards for its excellence and is still currently being broadcast in over 40 countries worldwide.
Jamie Starts the “Feed Me Better Campaign”
In spite of all the success that Jamie has experienced in his career, he never forgot to look back where he came from. In one occasion, he got to eat at a local school cafeteria and was distraught at finding out about the poor state of school dinners in many of UK’s schools. Motivated to make a change for the betterment of the future generation, Jamie started a program that promoted healthy eating in schools, replacing processed foods that children were used to with healthy foods that were freshly prepared.
This gave birth to the “Feed Me Better” campaign, where Jamie started a petition to give school children better meals. After garnering over 270 thousand signatures, the United Kingdom government pledged 280 million pounds to address the food issue by improving the meals being served and training those who cooked and served dinner.
Jamie’s Feed Me Better campaign was documented and released via the show entitled “Jamie’s School Dinners.” In the show, Jamie took the responsibility of what food was served to the students of Kidbrooke School in Greenwich for an entire year.
The show garnered the Best Factual program at the UK National TV Awards and Jamie won numerous awards for his charitable work, which included Jamie being named as the “Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2005.” A follow-up documentary entitled “Jamie’s Return to School Dinners” was created the following year to further promote serving healthy food in schools.
In 2005, during a break from the school campaign, Jamie travelled across Italy in a blue Volkswagen van with a kitchen trailer, in an effort to ‘rediscover’ his passion for cooking. His travels were documented and shown on the program “Jamie’s Great Italian Escape,” which became a hit on UK television. He also released his book “Jamie’s Italy,” which also focused on his Italian travels, alongside the show. Upon its release, “Jamie’s Italy” instantly became number one at the bestseller lists and outsold all other non-fiction books before it.
There were a few controversies that accompanied Jamie’s success, including a particular incident in his show where he slaughtered a live lamb. While many animal rights groups began criticizing Jamie for his action, he received praise from PETA for revealing the methods used in slaughtering animals by slaughterhouses.
He was also criticized for his Feed Me Better campaign for forcing the children to eat only his prepared meals and not giving them any options. A number of parents went against the campaign and gave their children junk food, stating that “food is cheaper and better at the local takeaways.” However, this did not deter Jamie’s dedication to promote healthy eating and continued the program.
The following years saw more open doors for Jamie Oliver as he began to produce and air more shows, as well as get more recognition for his bestselling cookbooks. In 2007, two shows in which Jamie hosted were aired: “Jamie’s Chef,” which was the continuation of his previous show “Jamie’s Kitchen,” which documented the Fifteen program after five years; and “Jamie at Home,” which featured him cooking at home, using ingredients that Jamie grew in his own garden.
It was also during that year that Jamie opened his second set of restaurants, which featured high-class Italian food, named “Jamie’s Italian.” The restaurant was successful and became a favourite of the locals surrounding Bath, Kingston, and Oxford. Years later, Jamie also opened a “Jamie’s Italian” restaurant in Dubai.
Jamie’s Ministry of Food
In 2008, Jamie started a new show and campaign that further promoted eating healthy food amongst the Britons. In “Jamie’s Ministry of Food,” he encouraged the citizens of Rotherham that even people who could not cook “can cook,” given a little encouragement and the know-how.
Wanting to establish Rotherham as the “culinary capital” of the United Kingdom, Jamie taught how families, friends, and neighbors could pass recipes to each other, spreading the information about cooking healthy food. He started the “Pass it On” campaign, which mirrored the activities of Jamie in Rotherham. The show became a national success and soon after Jamie opened a “Ministry of Food” center to teach citizens how to freshly prepare healthy food.
Jamie’s book about the show, which was published by Michael Joseph, became an instant bestseller and sold over a million copies internationally. The same year, Jamie also hosted the “Jamie’s Fowl Dinners” show, which encouraged Britons to eat free range chickens only to help the country’s poultry industry and prevent it from irreparably suffering. As a result of the show, an increase of over 50% was seen in the sales of free range chickens, which delighted many farmer organizations.
Jamie also appeared in “Iron Chef America” in 2008, competing with well-known chef Mario Batali in a cobia-themed cooking battle. Although Jamie lost, he still remarked that the competition was fun and that he was able to learn and share information with the other chefs that were present at the show.
The year 2009 was a very busy year for Jamie, with projects pouring in from almost every direction. He hosted shows, such as “Jamie Saves Our Bacon,” “Jamie’s American Road Trip,” and “Jamie’s Family Christmas.” Jamie spent a lot of time in the United States, documenting and encouraging the people to eat healthy foods and, as much as possible, stay away from processed, ready-to-eat ones.
15, 20, and 30 Minute Meals
In April 2009, Jamie was once again honored to cook for the Prime Minister during the G20 talks in London. It was also in this year that Jamie released his iPhone app called “20 Minute Meals,” which took the iTunes market by storm, immediately becoming one of its most downloaded apps.
Jamie started the “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” in the United States in 2010 to increase the awareness of the American citizens on the importance and benefits of cooking and eating healthy food. Beginning in Huntington—the unhealthiest place according to statistics—Jamie started a program that appealed to the public to improve their eating habits.
The show garnered numerous awards including an Emmy and Jamie was invited to many interviews with people, such as Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman, John Leno, and others. Jamie saw this as an opportunity to further promote the program by sharing the benefits of healthy eating in these shows.
It was also in this year that Jamie hosted the “30–Minute Meals,” which featured him teaching viewers how cleverly using their kitchen kits can help them make a healthy, complete meal in just 30 minutes. He also released his cookbook (named after the show) alongside the television program. Both the show and the book became hits, with the cookbook passing the one million mark even before Christmas. A follow-up show and book called “Jamie’s 15–Minute Meals” was created two years later, which also became successful.
The Big Fish Fight with Gordon Ramsay
Jamie also participated in “The Big Fish Fight,” a program which aimed to increase the awareness of trawling methods and the treatment of saltwater fish. Jamie spent some time with his fellow chef and competitor, Gordon Ramsay, in a trawler as they headed out to open sea with the fishermen.
In 2011, Jamie launched the “Jamie's Dream School,” which differed from Jamie’s usual cooking shows for its theme. The show looked at the challenges that the youth were commonly facing and attempted to discover the reasons behind these challenges.
Jamie also released several shows pertaining to his all-natural cooking styles, such as “Jamie’s Food Supper,” “Jamie Cooks Summer,” and “Jamie’s Great Britain,” which were all filmed outdoors. These shows continued to portray Jamie’s love and passion for cooking healthy food.
However, Jamie did come under fire this year when his “Jamie’s Italian” restaurant in Glasgow was reported to be using sauces that were manufactured from an industrial park in Bicester. He was also criticized for the lack of food safety precautions in his restaurants, which resulted in a number of reports of customers getting sick. This prompted Jamie to do a sweep check of his restaurants and improve the cooking standards in his food chains. In spite of this setback, Jamie continued on promoting healthy meals in his shows.
In 2012, Jamie collaborated with his childhood friend, Jimmy Doherty, and created the “Jamie and Jimmy’s Food Fight Club” show. Jamie also appeared in the show MasterChef Australia as a celebrity chef, facing off against three of the contestants in an ‘Immunity Challenge.’ His cooking skills amazed the judges so much that they awarded him nine out of ten, preventing the contestants to gain an immunity pin.
In more recent events, Jamie continues his devotion to promoting healthy eating. He goes around various places not just in the United Kingdom, but internationally as well, starting food programs that would increase people’s awareness on eating healthy. And in spite of all the numerous controversies and criticisms laid against him, Jamie pushes forward, never letting these weights drag him down from the road to success. He keeps on experimenting and showcasing new ways in which we can make this a healthier and better world for generations to come.
- 1998-1999: The Naked Chef
- 2000: Pukka Tukka
- 2002-present: Oliver’s Twist
- 2002: Jamie’s Kitchen
- 2003: Return to Jamie’s Kitchen
- 2005: Jamie’s School Dinners
- 2005: Jamie’s Great Italian Escape
- 2006: Jamie’s Kitchen Australia
- 2006: Jamie’s Return to School Dinners
- 2007: Jamie’s Chef
- 2007: Jamie at Home
- 2008: Jamie’s Fowl Dinners
- 2008: Jamie’s Ministry of Food
- 2008: Iron Chef America (as a celebrity contestant)
- 2008: Oprah’s Big Give (as a guest judge)
- 2009: Jamie Saves Our Bacon (Part of British Food Fight Season)
- 2009: Jamie’s American Road Trip
- 2009: Jamie’s Family Christmas
- 2010-2011: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
- 2010: Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals
- 2011: Jamie’s Dream School
- 2011: Jamie’s Great Britain
- 2011: Jamie Cooks Summer
- 2011: Jamie’s Fish Supper
- 2012: Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals
- 2012: Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club
- 2012: MasterChef Australia (as a celebrity chef)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Fifteen (charity restaurant)
- Food Revolution
- Trees for Cities
- The Kitchen Garden Project
- Ministry of Food
- Better School Food Campaign
- Big Fish Fight
Awards and Achievements
- 2000: Received the BAFTA Award for Best Feature (The Naked Chef)
- 2000: Received the TV Personality Man of the Year Award from GQ
- 2000: Received the Best TV Cook Award from TV Quick
- 2000: Named as the Most Stylish Male TV Personality at the Elle Style Awards
- 2000: Received the Television Broadcast of the Year Award from the Guild of Food Writers
- 2001: Received the GQ Best Chef Award
- 2001: Received the Home & Leisure Award (Return of the Naked Chef)
- 2001: Received the Best Television Chef Book for Happy Days Award (The Naked Chef)
- 2002: Received the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Documentary Series (Jamie’s Kitchen)
- 2003: Conferred Member of the British Empire
- 2003: Received the Special Award for Outstanding Achievement from Time Out
- 2003: Named as the Food and Drink Personality of the Year at the GQ/Glenfiddich Food and Drink Awards
- 2003: Won Best TV Cookery Show at the GQ/Glenfiddich Food and Drink Awards (Jamie’s Kitchen)
- 2003: Received the Academy Award of Excellence from Tio Pepe Carlton London Restaurant
- 2003: Received the Tatler Best Restaurant Award (Fifteen)
- 2005: Received the Political Agenda Award
- 2005: Received the Special Recognition Award from UK National TV
- 2005: Won the Judge’s Special Prize at the Beacon Fellowship Awards
- 2005: Received the British Hospitality Association Award
- 2005: Won the Alwyn Smith Prize
- 2005: Received the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Series (Jamie’s School Dinners)
- 2006: Received the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Series (Jamie’s School Dinners)
- 2006: Received Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Presenter in the Factual Area
- 2006: Received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Book Awards
- 2006: Received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the Observer Food Monthly Awards (Jamie’s School Dinners)
- 2006: Won the title of Best Documentary Series (Jamie’s School Dinners)
- 2007: Received the Horace Hagedorn Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Garden Industry
- 2008: Received the IACP Cook Book Award (Cook With Jamie)
- 2008: Received the O2 X Award for Inspiration, Celebrity Category
- 2008: Received the RSPCA Award for Significant Contribution to chicken welfare awareness
- 2008: Received the Global Citizen Award at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival
- 2008: Received the Derek Cooper Award for Campaigning and Investigative Food Writing (Jamie’s Ministry of Food)
- 2008: Received the RTS Award for Best Educational Series (Jamie’s School Dinners)
- 2008: Named as the Food Personality of the Year by Observer Food Monthly
- 2009: Named as the Food Personality of the Year by Observer Food Monthly
- 2009: Received the D&AD Awards
- 2009: Awarded the Best Visual Merchandising Solution by Recipease
- 2009: Awarded the Best Small Shop by Recipease
- 2009: Received the Global Beverage Design Award from Recipease for three categories: Best Food Packaging, Best Brand Identity and Best in Class
- 2009: Received the London International Award for JME Homeware Packaging
- 2010: Won the TED Prize
- 2010: Won the Outstanding Reality Program at the Emmy’s (Food Revolution)
- 2010: Named as the Food Personality of the Year by Observer Food Monthly
- 2010: Received the Apple Design Award (20 Minute Meals)
- 2011: Won Best Food Show at the TV Choice Awards (30 Minute Meals)
- 2011: Received the Webby Award (Jamie’s Recipes)
- 2012: Received the Healthy Cup Award from the Harvard School of Public Health