If you've only seen Jamie Oliver's cooking show, where he prepares dishes at a manic pace, staring at someone just behind and off to one side of the camera while nattering away the whole time, then you haven't seen the most entertaining things that he's done. A couple of years ago, he had a reality show where he tried to train 15 dysfunctional kids to run their own restaurant, and he dealt with people mouthing off at him, not showing up for shifts, or just plain buggering off completely. The winner became the chef at Fifteen, a restaurant that Jamie shelled out 2 million pounds of his own money to start up. Now he's continuing the endeavour with his Fifteen Foundation, starting up similar programs for inner city kids in other cities, by donating money from the sale of his books and DVDs.
There was the other show, Jamie's Lunches, I think it was called (School Lunches? I can't remember) that I actually missed and would love to catch at some point, where he went and exposed the British school system for all its fried foods, showing how important (and easy) it is to make healthy lunches for the kids who are supposed to be the country's future.
Now he's back with Jamie's Chefs. The first episode just aired Sunday night on the Food Network, and he's taken 4 of the chefs from his Fifteen experiment who didn't make it, and he's seeing which one of them can take over a restaurant he's buying with the Foundation money, called -- seriously -- The Cock. It's a pub. (There's a great scene where Jamie comments on all the "cocks" that are decorating the place.) We watch as he narrows the group to four, then runs those four through a series of tests, and further reduces them to three before giving them a big challenge. Each one can excel at a different side of being the head of a restaurant, and it's fascinating to see one step up in one challenge, and fall flat on their faces in the next.
This is a four-part series, so catch it if you can, Food Network, Sundays at 10. If you missed the episode from the other night, it'll be repeated this Thursday at 10pm. To get yourself in the mood, read this interview with him from this past weekend's Globe and Mail. He talks about the experiences he's had with the Fifteen endeavour, and his fellow celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain. Addressing the fact that both have called Oliver a TV hog and a long time ago referred to him as a bit of a hack for being on TV so much, he says:
"I wasn't saying I was the best chef in the world, and I still don't now, and I wouldn't dare," he shrugs. "Before Gordon [Ramsay] did much telly, and Anthony Bourdain, they hated TV chefs. And the reality is, they turned into them. Gordon and Anthony have done more telly than I've ever done, and I've been doing telly longer than them. I spent two years doing four one-hour documentaries on school dinners. ... I guess what's slightly upsetting me, is when you rate someone [like Mr. Bourdain] and then they think you're a bit of a pussy. It's not very inspiring."