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Jamie Oliver: “I’d never have believed we’d cook for Obama”

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Ten years after he launched the most famous apprenticeship scheme in the country, Jamie Oliver talks to Stylist about how Fifteen changed the restaurant world

It started as a social experiment and has become a globally recognised franchise for youth empowerment. Back in 2002, before School Dinners and 30-Minute Meals, when Jamie Oliver was still just the Naked Chef from off the telly – he started a restaurant that helped underprivileged young people get jobs in the hospitality industry. Like everything Oliver tends to touch, it turned to gold, with branches opening in Amsterdam and Cornwall soon afterwards, making Fifteen one of the restaurants everyone should visit at least once.

Here, Jamie reveals Fifteen’s biggest moments in the last 10 years:

Fifteen started as… A conversation I had with a friend who had worked with underprivileged kids. I’d made a few quid from my books and I was feeling a bit guilty about the money. I wanted to give something back to the industry that had given me so much.

If you told me 10 years ago that… We’d cook for President Obama at the G20 summit with the Fifteen team, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I can’t believe… The things we did in the early days. I took the apprentices on a sourcing trip to Wales and locked us out of the minibus. Luckily, one of them was an ex-car thief so I asked if he could do the lock. Ten seconds later…

If I could do anything differently, I’d… Not have done a deal with a baked bean company early on. They gave us loads of money to put “posh beans on toast” on the menu, but we got a mullering for it. It was when there was a bloke dressed as a bean outside the restaurant that I thought, ‘This is a bad idea.’

My biggest challenge was… Paying for it. I had to guarantee my house against it, which was scary. Now it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.

I’m annoyed that… Our government won’t listen to experts about health and education. If an MP said they’d spend six months just listening to people, I’d admire it.

Photo credit: Rex Features

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