It is 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, in the totally cool and cushy subterranean dining room of Fifteen, the London restaurant founded by popular cookbook author and TV personality Jamie Oliver (Jamie's Kitchen, a documentary about Fifteen, airs on the Food Network through May). On television, hosting the cooking series The Naked Chef and Oliver's Twist, he comes across as unpretentious, improvisational, slightly flighty. In real life, sitting at a table adjacent to the restaurant's open kitchen, Oliver appears to be equally free-swinging, but completely focused. Speaking over the pre-dinner clatter of food being chopped and cooked, he's brainstorming with two members of his crew. They are putting the final touches on a seven-course tasting menu that will be available by the time you read this.
Wearing blue jeans and a pinstriped chef's apron, his big-wave hairdo cresting above his forehead, puckish-looking Oliver debates the merits of oxtail versus lamb ravioli. He quickly decides that oxtail would be quintessentially British and the better filling before moving on to dessert. "How 'bout deep-fried pasta with rhubarb and mascarpone?" Oliver asks. "But it'll be only one little bit. Just big enough for you to get it in and fill your gob."
Oliver, 28, knows more than a few things about gobs. For the last five years, his own gob has been ubiquitous on television in the United Kingdom. In 2000, the U.S.-based Food Network debuted The Naked Chef, and now he's massive on both sides of the Atlantic, selling more than 8 million cookbooks around the globe. The son of a pub owner, Oliver grew up near Cambridge and got into the big-time restaurant biz as a teenager, working in the kitchen of London's esteemed River Café. He happened to snag a bit of camera time during a documentary on the eatery, and it became clear that the man had a telegenic quality. Shows and specials followed, bolstered by bestselling cookbooks and promotional gigs with food-related companies such as T-Fal cookware and Royal Worcester china.