British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver dreams of giving cookery lessons to children in his restaurants on Royal Caribbean ships, he revealed last night.
Oliver, who has spearheaded campaigns for better school food, said of his new ventures on Quantum and Anthem of the Seas: ‘One of the dreams will be to get cooking with children on the ship sometime. When I’ve earned my stripes that is something I would love to do, if it’s appropriate. I think cooking and learning to cook when you’re in that environment is a beautiful thing.’
Speaking on the rooftop of his restaurant in Piccadilly, London, Oliver said he saw a perfect fit between his Jamie’s Italian chain and Royal Caribbean. ‘We’re always very cynical about our partners, we can always think of more reasons to say no than to say yes and we go through a process of waiting to be impressed not only by their technical ability but also their love of food and also wanting to raise the bar. The more time we spent with the Royal Caribbean crew the more we realised it was just going to be easy.
‘All of my team have come back deeply impressed with the ninja abilities of the Royal Caribbean group. We are compromising none of our standards or ethics. This ship [Quantum] that’s being built is technically off the chart and having dynamic dining is a big part of it and food’s really important.’
When first approached to set up a restaurant at sea, he said he was ‘in shock – a nice shock’. He said he had a 900-page Bible of guidelines – about such things as welfare, ethics, genetically modified ingredients and hydrogenated fats – for his restaurant. ‘We scare most people off when we say what’s involved in getting into bed with us. These guys are fine.’
He added: ‘This is a really exciting challenge for us. We’ve tried to attack new things, lift the bar and really celebrate food, have fun, not take it too seriously. I never, ever dreamt of having any of our restaurants on the high seas, absolutely not, it was not even on our radar.’
Oliver, who cruised with the US line as a child, said he was looking forward to taking his wife and their four children on board. ‘When I was a young lad, every three years we would go on a blowout holiday. I loved Royal Caribbean so it would be really nice to get back on and enjoy it.’ He joked: ‘I can bring my family – I’ve got four kids that are feral who I would love to hand over to the Royal Caribbean team!’
The chef said he grew up in the restaurant trade. ‘The point of Jamie’s Italian was to give something that had multiple gears to people, I am so proud to say that we have teenagers with their first £15 in their pocket, going out on dates or with their group of friends, we have mums, dads with kids’ parties that come in at certain times of the day, we have mothers-in-law, the first meeting of the parents, old-age pensioners, the hipsters, the cool dudes.
‘I broadcast and publish in 80 to 100 countries throughout the world so I have an amazing dialogue with the global public. That sounds really pretentious but that’s the truth and what they expect from me is comfort food, high quality and enough surprise to make them want to come back.’
On his ambitions at sea, he said: ‘I have two ships at the moment and if me and my team do a good job and we add diversity, maybe there’ll be more. If not, it’s a beautiful experience but that’s fair enough.’
When I asked if he was looking forward to competing with other celebrity chefs at sea such as Marco Pierre White and James Martin – on rival ship Britannia in Southampton next year against his restaurant on Anthem – he answered: ‘It’s irrelevant in the sense that I don’t know much about it. It’s not something that pops up on my radar on or off land. It’s really only about knowing we can deliver to our partner, which is Royal Caribbean.’
Oliver said he still worked daily on his famous – and sometimes controversial – campaigns like making school dinners healthier. He described his role as being ‘like being a provocateur, being a stirrer, being friends with your enemies, but when you do it enough, change begins to happen. On May 16, food revolution day, we’re going for a world record this year of a million children having a cooking lesson. We start off in Sydney at the Olympic Stadium – 3,300 kids – and we’re going to beat the current world record.
‘Ultimately, everything we do comes back to celebrating food.TV’s great, books are great but when you get skin-on-skin it’s brilliant and that’s what I do. It’s a very weird job but I love it.’
Listen to the whole interview, in which Jamie is introduced by Brian Abel, vice-president of food and beverage at Royal Caribbean International, below (audio only):
See video of Jamie talking about why he agreed to set up restaurants at sea here
Shipmonk has been shortlisted as best blog in the 2015 Cruise International awards. To vote, please click here (last category)