|Jamie Oliver Visits Chiswick For Bonfire Party|
Celebrity chef talks about why he chose to open Union Jacks here
Jamie Oliver is in Union Jacks on Bonfire Night, and as always he’s a man on a mission. His visit to Chiswick is partly to throw a free party for locals with apple-bobbing and roasted chestnuts, but also to convince people to come on board with his ‘Best of British’ flavours. The popular TV chef and restaurateur recently overhauled his menu at Union Jacks after feedback from Chiswick customers suggested there were too many pizzas on the menu.
“The important thing for a restaurant is to listen to its customers. There’s no pride lost in that,” Jamie tells ChiswickW4.com. “People told us they wanted the best pizza but they also wanted great classics and at a good price.”
According to Jamie, since he opened Union Jacks in the former Villandry premises with business partner Chris Bianco, the response has been “really good.” He reckons that people are happy because they feel they had an input into shaping the menu in what he wants to be a “great neighbourhood restaurant.”
His obsession with using local producers and British ingredients, whether it’s English wine, or the best British cheese, has found its way onto the menu in his newest chain. There are other branches in Holborn, Covent Garden and Winchester. Jamie Oliver’s passion these days is for nostalgia. The decor in Union Jacks is retro and he wants the food to tap into people’s memories.
The Bonfire Night party at Union Jacks (David Loftus)
His own childhood was spent growing up in the ‘Cricketers’ pub in Essex where his parents served food long before the term gastro-pub was born.
“Other people had front rooms in their houses. We didn’t have a front room because it had been turned into a place for washing up,” he recalls. Fish and chips was a favourite with their customers but he also remembers his mother cooking liver and bacon and his grandmother's gammon steaks.
“Liver and bacon, fish and chips, chicken pie, those are dishes I remember from my childhood and they’re great. But when we do them in Union Jacks, we do it properly. If we do it, it will be ‘Top of the Pops.’ It will be different, the gammon will be served with pineapple in jerk sauce, the liver won’t be overcooked.”
Jamie opted for opening in Chiswick because of a happy coincidence. The right venue became available in the right area.
“I knew Chiswick fairly well because I worked for years in the River Cafe, and I knew it was a really lovely area, with a lot of creative professionals living and working here. When I heard about the Villandry site I was really keen. There’s nothing quite like it visually, with these great windows and space.”
Apple bobbing at Union Jacks ( David Loftus)
Jamie says they tried to keep the emphasis on local, by hiring many of the staff from Chiswick, and using nearby antique shops to source many of the items in the restaurant.
Union Jacks has been “a really special project” for the father-of four, who is almost as well known for his campaigning on healthy eating as for his cooking. He has battled against the use of processed foods in school meals for children in both British and American schools, and for local produce to be used in cooking. His ' Fifteen' project gave young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to be trained in the restaurant business.
Despite millions of book sales (his latest is 'Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals'), and several successful television cookery series, his passion for food remains undimmed.
Part of the attraction co-owning Union Jacks was the friendship that developed between him and New Yorker Chris Bianco, who understood his enthusiasm for using best-quality locally grown produce. The story goes that Bianco, who heads up the successful Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona, came to visit two years ago, and was so taken with the vibrant food culture of British markets, pubs and shops, that he agreed to move to the UK and work with Jamie on Union Jacks.
“What’s been brilliant for me is to have someone coming from another country and seeing things through their eyes. Chris is really excited about the local producers and the amazing food we have here, and that’s exciting for me too. It’s a really special project”.
Face-painting fun at Union Jacks (picture- David Loftus)
Jamie Oliver's next series on Channel Four is ‘Jimmy's Food Fight Club’ in which he teams up with an old friend Jimmy Doherty. The Essex twosome take over an old seaside café they used to frequent in the ‘80s and re-open it for friends, locals and special guests.
“We're out to show Great Britain and the world just how good our food has become,” says Oliver. The pair will take to the road during the course the four episodes, travelling to foreign lands to tackle other food challenges abroad. For example, they plan to take British cheesemakers to France and pit them against their French counterparts to see who comes out best.
The show promises to be “mischievous,” “irreverent” and packed with “food knowledge and banter” in equal quantities, according to Channel 4.
From Essex, via the rest of the world, to Chiswick- the energy of Jamie Oliver and his passion for food remain utterly infectious.
Jamie and Jimmy's Food Fight Club will be broadcast on Channel 4 later this year.
November 8, 2012