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Exclusive interview: Inside Jamie Oliver’s Christmas!

-Dec 4, JEN PAUL, Living -

Jamie Oliver’s become part of Christmas with special shows screened to show us how to cook the perfect festive feast for 18 Christmases! This year he is giving the occasion his Quick & East twist, demonstrating how your dishes can impress even when they are made with just five ingredients. This will save you time and money but most importantly make that supermarket shop ahead of the holidays a lot quicker.

So, what does Christmas mean to Jamie, 43, who will be spending it with wife of 18 years Jools, 43 and their five children; Poppy, 16, Daisy, 15, Petal, nine, Buddy, eight, and River, two?

What’s your favourite Christmas pop song?

Band Aid. It might not be the best, but I was the right age when it came out and it still pulls on my heartstrings.

And your favourite Christmas film?

The Goonies.

And favourite Christmas TV?

Only Fools & Horses. And The Queen’s Speech.

What’s your festive guilty pleasure?

Cream soda. It’s the only time I buy cream soda. Buddy’s like “What is this? This is amazing.” I’m like “Don’t get used to it.”

Which is your favourite Quality Street?

The purple one.

Is there any festive food you would say is overrated?

Controversially, Christmas pudding. It doesn’t work for me. It’s too heavy, like an edible cannonball. But by fixing my hatred of it, I came up with my version: I introduced stout, chocolate and more breadcrumbs, which means lightness. And I’m telling you, my one’s badass.

What’s the best Christmas present you ever received?

It’s a toss-up between two. When I was seven, I got an AT-AT and a bunch of Star Wars figures. That was a big landslide moment for me. Then when I was 12, I got a drum kit and that became a massive part of my youth. I spent my whole childhood in kitchens or rehearsing. That kept me out of trouble and gave brought me such joy and camaraderie.

And what’s the best Christmas present you ever gave?

Probably the coolest was to Gennaro Contaldo, nine years ago. His birthday and Christmas come around the same time and he was turning 60. He’d been such an incredible friend, mentor and support to me and I just wanted to repay him somehow. His dream as a kid was to own an E-type Jag and I managed to find a good one at a fairly decent price, then spent a year doing it up in preparation for his 60th. It was just another level: perfect, black, beautiful. I knew it was going to break him. I got my book at the time, which was Cook With Jamie, got a Stanley knife, cut out the middle to hold the car keys, wrapped it up and gave him the book. I gave it to him in the office and he was confused when he unwrapped it – but then when he realised, he just went. He was in bits. I took him outside and one of the guys roared up in the Jag, with Pavarotti playing on the stereo. Everyone knew it was happening and they were all leaning out of the windows to watch. A brilliant moment for a brilliant man. Gennaro’s still got the car and keeps telling my son Buddy he’s going to leave it to him in his will.

Do you give foodie gifts at Christmas?

Definitely. Normally a little hamper of stuff I’ve made at weekends over the last month or two. Damson gin, crab apple jelly, quince jam, gingerbread, hot chocolate, things like that. Olive oil is picked in October and November, so if you can get hold of new season stuff, it’s unbelievable: luminous, viscous and just tastes different. I like gifts that keep on giving, like a pestle and mortar. That will still be making your food taste amazing years later.

What’s been your own biggest Christmas cooking disaster?

I used to make banoffee pie for dessert, which involved boiling tins of condensed milk for hours in a pan of water. I let it boil dry once and as I’m sure you know, if you heat a tin long enough, it’ll explode. Normally it might contain tomatoes or something quite innocent but when it’s boiling black caramel, it’s really dangerous. Luckily, no-one was in the kitchen at the time, but I came back to find stalactites and stalagmites of caramel all over the room. It looked quite impressive actually! Getting distracted is your enemy, for men in general and also at Christmas.

And what’s been the biggest general Christmas disaster?

Bless my nan, she passed away five years ago. She was named Betty, but I always called her Tiger. We did a lot of cooking together and she was incredible. Great on telly, too. I dedicated my Christmas Cookbook to her. My earliest memories of Christmas are when we served people in the pub until 2.30pm, then we’d close up, draw the curtains, gather around the fire and cook our Christmas dinner. I’ll never forget one time when we’d just started eating and suddenly my dad was beating my nan up. I knew as a seven-year-old that it wasn’t right, your dad to be bashing your nan around the head, but I quickly realised that he wasn’t abusing her, he was trying to put her out! She’d enthusiastically gone for the stuffing or the sprouts, leant over and her hair was ablaze. It was a blue rinse, quite bouffant and required lots of hairspray to keep it structurally sound. She was highly flammable, and she’d set herself on fire, so the old man wasn’t being an arsehole, he was being a hero.

Will you be making any New Year’s Resolutions?

Ooh, I’ve not set any yet, but it’s bound to be dropping the kids off at school more, that kind of stuff. I’m not bad but I could probably do better.

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