JF: What kind of kid were you?
JO: Curious, a bit hyper, fairly decent, friends with a lot of people. I had a lot of fun, was a little bit mischievous. But I worked a lot as a kid. I started working [in the kitchen of his parents’ pub] when I was eight, for pocket money, on weekends and summer holidays. In a family business you’re kept really busy. Dad was tough, quite strict. He taught me that people die in bed, so get up! He used to wake me up with a hose.
JO: Yeah. Mum and Dad were great. They used to work seven days a week, but they were always there. That’s one of the joys of living in a family business: they’re always there, but you’re quite independent. Even as a 10-year-old I’d, like, go out at nine and come back at six at night.
JF: You seem to have had a dream run in your career. Early on as a pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s London restaurant, then sous-chef at The River Café, where you were spotted by a BBC talent scout.
JO: I was in the background of a Christmas program, Christmas at The River Café. When they cut the show, I ended up in a lot of it. Then a few people spotted it and suggested I have my own show, which was really not the plan.
JF: The Naked Chef.
JO: I wrote a kind of pitch document. I didn’t want to just follow the norm. I said, “Look, I want to strip down restaurant food to its bare essentials, I want to do it in my flat, I want it cut to my music that I listen to, I don’t want to wear chef whites, I just want to have a party.” And that’s pretty much what The Naked Chef was. It was going to be called Forking Gorgeous originally, and thank God they changed it to The Naked Chef. It was BBC2 and it went massive straight away. I mean, it was nuts!
JF: Why do you think that was?
JO: It was a really interesting moment in time. You know, it’s 20 years next year since The Naked Chef. I think it was always about democratising food. The fact I was young, a kid ... [For viewers] it was like, “If he can do it, I can do it.” Also, it was a moment where women were, give or take 20 years, into going to work. Forty years ago, 12 per cent of women went to work and here we are now, 76 per cent of women work. So that’s a massive social change.
What was really interesting 20 years ago was that the girls and boys would go and put in a 12-hour day, they’d get home, put their feet up and then all the men of Britain would turn around to their missus and go, “What’s for dinner?” And the girls were like, “I ain’t having it because my feet hurt as well.” And there I was on telly, chirping about, all pukka-ed up, having a go. So the girls were using me to get their boys to cook. I was in all the girls’ magazines. It was a bit like One Direction, but for cooking. It really was nuts.
For the full interview, pick up the October issue of marie claire, on sale now.
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