Seasoned Traveller
Jamie Oliver

"I know I’m getting romantic, but I don’t give a f---": Jamie Oliver opens up

As told to Sofia Levin
Images supplied

Jamie Oliver has returned to MasterChef Australia as a mentor for two weeks, but when he’s not in the country, the celebrity chef and restaurateur admits there’s nowhere he would rather be.

I feel more at home in Australia than I do back in the UK. The way I like to live and operate feels slightly more Australian than British, dare I say it... Australia just resonates with me on a very deep level. Maybe I should’ve been born Australian, I don’t know, but honestly, when I come to Australia, I don’t feel like a tourist – I feel like I’m home. I don’t know if it’s the way I look at life; the way I take food seriously, but kind of not-too-seriously; the way I don’t mind having a laugh and being the butt of a joke, but also being part of a joke. I just love the Australian spirit; it fills me with goodness and feels like a vitamin B12 shot in the arse.

Melbourne’s got it right. Melbourne feels like a city of alleyways, and in those alleyways are lots of expressions of culture, community and, of course, food. It just feels really vibrant, like every street really does represent so many different aspects of the cultures that live here and the waves of immigration that make Melbourne so diverse and so interesting. You could eat out every night and never go back to the same place, so it feels alive. 

Gordon Bennett! I had a lot of really good meals (in Melbourne). I mean, look, having Ethiopian (at Cafe Lalibela in Footscray) with you was very memorable, partly because watching Jean-Christophe (Novelli) wondering how he was going to eat without a knife and fork was brilliant. But I think the restaurant (Jeow, Richmond) that I went to with Andy and his wife Alex felt really unusual. There was a smorgasbord tray of all kinds of salads and rice and fish and meat, and it was very different to what I’d seen in that collection before. Every single menu item was really unique and really defined and really beautiful. 

To me, food is adventure and community and safety. These are all my kinds of memories as a kid growing up in a pub… That sense of community, that sense of serving people, I love the idea: to serve people. Some people look down on it; I look up at it. I think it’s such a treat to serve people and make their day a little bit better and create a safe space where people can come and be themselves.

Too many people try to make food out to be a craft and a trade, but I think on a very human level, to make something – to cook it, to serve it, to feed other people, to be generous – is a beautiful, beautiful thing. All of the most profound moments of my life have happened around food or the dinner table. People that make amazing food or products are always good people, so I find that very humbling and I think it’s an incredible thing that always brings people together. 

"When you love food, food is a language for you."

I’ve travelled around the world speaking hardly any languages, and just from a smile and general politeness and grunting and groaning at the right times, people know you love food. They put stuff in your hand, they put stuff in your mouth, and I think there’s like something innately beautiful about feeding and nourishing, and I think it’s within all of us. 

I loved this year. I loved my dinners with you guys and I loved the show and I believe in it. (MasterChef Australia) wants to find the best in people. It is this beautiful family show that gives Australia hope in the simple things in life: the dinner table and the stomach and farmers and suppliers and taking a moment to cook something as simple a sandwich or a curry, or a beautiful feast – this act of cooking and savouring and being grateful and sharing it with people. I know I’m getting romantic, but I don’t give a f---. It’s just a beautiful thing, and anything that can do that to Australia is a beautiful thing. Anything that can do that to anyone is a beautiful thing. MasterChef does that, so I love it. I’m all in.

It’s a beautiful opportunity to tell your story if you say yes to something. If you make yourself vulnerable, if you just have a go and make yourself a little uncomfortable, maybe you’ll discover something about yourself that’s truly wonderful and amazing. MasterChef Australia is special because it’s not just a TV gameshow, it genuinely is a chance for seeing transformation in the contestants. I’m very lucky to work in the industry that I do, but to have two weeks where I can just focus not on me and not on my world, but just on other people and mentoring them is wonderful.

With the new judges, as a foursome, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. My job, really, was to kick off the series and add a little new season extra-virgin olive oil to the new cogs. You’re bringing something completely different to the story. Your experiences, your energy, your enthusiasm; it’s really precious mentoring and it gives the judging panel real depth and fairness. Jean-Christophe is an incredible legend; a beautiful, romantic man. He’s hilarious and he’s gone through London at one of the most exciting times in the ‘90s with two Michelin stars. 

Poh is just a little gift of sunshine and, like Andy, her experiences as a contestant and her creative lifestyle, her eye for detail and artistic appeal and soulfulness, again add a wonderful edge to the judging team. And then you’ve got Andy, of course, who has just thrived and been rocketed from an electrician to legitimately robust chef-entrepreneur-restauranteur to beer maker. 

In my busy lifestyle, and as a somewhat recognisable member of the celebrity fraternity – I’m not getting the violin out – but you know I don’t get an opportunity to make new friends that often, so I treasure that two weeks more than you’ll ever know.

Watch Jamie Oliver in the first 8 episodes of MasterChef Australia, season 16, on 10Play.

Around the World in 80 Lesser-Known Melbourne Restaurants

FREE food guide when you subscribe.

Discover how to #EatCuriously...

Subscribe for fortnightly updates