Men's Health : Jamie Oliver: Chef, entrepreneur, author, food advocate

Chef, entrepreneur, author, food advocate, and all-around casual genius, Jamie Oliver has become a household name, in both the U.K. and the U.S. It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings. “I grew up in my parent’s pub and I’ve been cooking since I was seven years old. Cooking was the one thing I did really well,” Jamie says. “I was terrible in school, so I just kept cooking.”

From the Essex pub in which he first worked (which is still run by his parents, Trevor and Sally), Jamie went on to graduate from Westminster Catering College. After a short stint working in France, he took a job at London’s famed River Café where he spent the next three and a half years working with two of his biggest influencers, renowned chefs and owners of the River Café, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. “The women really influenced me,” Jamie notes. “Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, as well as Elizabeth David and Alice Waters.”

It was while at the River Café that Jamie was discovered by a film crew doing a feature on the restaurant—and The Naked Chef was born. The concept behind the hugely successful television show was to strip food down to its bare essentials. Jamie’s hands-on style and laid-back attitude was like a breath of fresh air, inspiring everyone to cook. Jamie has never looked back.

The primary focus of The Naked Chef—and the many books and television programs that have followed—has been to educate ordinary people in the art of cooking simple but delicious cuisine. Jamie has never believed it difficult—and he has spent a considerable portion of his time trying to convince everyone else of that. “With just the littlest bit of instruction, anyone can learn to cook tasty, inexpensive, and lovely food,” says Jamie. “The problem isn’t accessibility to food, it’s accessibility to food education. Our parents’ generation didn’t grow up learning how to cook, so they didn’t pass on the skills—and the schools have all but stopped teaching people about food and cooking. That’s why I’m trying so hard to get food education back into schools. Cooking is a necessary skill.”

Probably the most public of Jamie’s activities has been his hard work in the transformation of food in schools. His initial foray into this arena was in 2005 in the U.K., with the series Jamie’s School Dinners. The effect of the show was profound— substantial improvements were made to the food being served throughout British schools. But Jamie wasn’t satisfied. He set his sights on America with a new television series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.