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15 minutes of fame
From car thief to head chef at a top London restaurant; we caught up with four of the original apprentices from Jamie Oliver’s life-changing Fifteen project. We find out what they are up to almost a decade on from the hit TV series…
Jamie Oliver, cookery guru, strode onto our screens over a decade ago with his unconventional style and pukka power. Recognised as a radical chef worldwide, the Essex boy has an MBE and was the winner of the 2010 esteemed TED award for creating a food revolution that stirred up the fast food generation and government, just as well as he stirred his pots.
One of Jamie’s biggest achievements is Fifteen, the academy that trains disadvantaged youths to become chefs. Since its opening in 2002 and with ‘Jamie’s Kitchen’ on channel four the same year, Fifteen has been an ongoing catalyst, churning out graduates yearly, with a total of 96 having been trained in total this autumn.
From the moment Jamie mortgaged his house as collateral for the project (without telling his wife,) these young students knew they had his full support. And the transformation of these graduates has been immense; many of these former students are nurturing their contemporaries and instilling Jamie’s philosophies wherever they can.
Jamie himself spoke to RECOGNISE ‘Fifteen will always be my baby and it’s fantastic that most of the graduates are still working in the industry, some of them head chefs, some of them working towards opening their own places - Tim Siadatan, one of the original Fifteen trainees has already done that and he’s getting fantastic reviews. Fifteen itself still trains a new group of young people every year and the profits from the restaurant are fed back into the Jamie Oliver Foundation charity and the apprentice programme.”
The Fifteen course is unique - no-one else teaches so much. It sends the apprentices on sourcing trips, sends them mushroom foraging with Gennaro Contaldo and takes them up to Cumbria to learn about pig farming, slaughtering and butchery.
And Fifteen doesn’t just have apprentices in the kitchen, there is also a brigade of trained chefs led by Andrew Parkingson who work with the trainees to make sure the food is of high quality standard. They’re kind of like the experienced doctors training the juniors on the job.
In between abundant mozzarella, the freshest breads and some seriously decadent truffle salami, RECOGNISE talks to four of Jamie’s proteges about how Fifteen has paved a path of success for each one of them.
Elisa Roche is now the glamorous Showbiz Editor at The Daily Express. One of the first batch of trainees and the only girl to graduate that year; Elisa was propelled into the spotlight and away from a chaotic life not having a home or job.
You were living in hostels when you got involved with Fifteen, how did this impact your life?
Jamie genuinely did change my life. I’d done bar-work and waitressing but didn’t have a job, I went to the jobcentre and had a look around and saw an ad for C4 and Jamie.
Have you always wanted to be a chef?
I’ve always been an amateur chef, my mum’s Turkish and dad’s half French-Iish so we’ve got quite a cultural mix going on, it would be Irish stew night, and stuffed Turkish vine leaves the next.
You were the only girl to graduate weren’t you?
Yes, it was a lot harder than any of us could imagine, standing on your feet for fifteen hours a day, a lot of press interest, taking in a lot of new things, basically setting up a new restaurant and being thrust into a whole new world. Some people had never had a job before or attended school reguarly, so for them to turn up every single day for a cooking course with TV cameras…I think the pressure got to them, it was really exhausting.
Words and interviews: Ruth Stivey
“Marilla is a famous cook. She is trying to teach me to cook but I assure you, Diana, it is uphill work. There's so little scope for imagination in cookery. You just have to go by rules. The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. I was thinking the loveliest story about you and me, Diana. I thought you were desperately ill with smallpox and everybody deserted you, but I went boldly to your bedside and nursed you back to life; and then I took the smallpox and died and I was buried under those poplar trees in the graveyard and you planted a rosebush by my grave and watered it with your tears; and you never, never forgot the friend of your youth who sacrificed her life for you. Oh, it was such a pathetic tale, Diana. The tears just rained down my cheeks while I mixed the cake. But I forgot the flour and the cake was a dismal failure.”—Anne Shirley
From “Invalid Cookery”, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861). Mrs. Isabella Beeton.
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Thin, cold toast; thin slices of bread-and-butter; pepper and salt to taste
Place a very thin piece of cold toast between two slices of thin bread and butter in the form of a sandwich, adding a seasoning of pepper and salt. This sandwich…will be found very tempting to the appetite of an invalid.
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The next time I’m struck down with a 19th century illness I’m going to try this.