Jamie Oliver is relaxed. Straddling a bale of hay in a checked shirt, jeans and a straw hat, he looks perfectly at home on Alex James’ farm, the location for The Big Feastival. Excitable and passionate, he enthusiastically muses about the Feastival, being a “frustrated musician” and his new soon-to-be-released book, '15-minute meals’.
Now in its second year, The Big Feastival has expanded from Clapham Common in London, to welcoming 6,000 food-loving campers and more day-trippers to Blur’s Alex James’ farm in Oxfordshire. Fed up of running ‘The Big Night’, an evening of “getting wealthy people in a room and doing auctions and stuff,” Jamie wanted to do an event that was more ‘him’; to create something more accessible.
“What I wanted to do was something that represented everything we love. The joy of food,” Jamie explains.
Using Alex’s farm allowed him to share the Feastival load, have a “major in music,” invite campers, and of course avoid this year’s Olympic hustle and bustle. Alex was more than happy to oblige. “I knew he [Jamie Oliver] was looking for somewhere to do it in the countryside so I was all over him like, ‘Mate. We’ve got the venue, food and music.’ It just seemed to make sense. Having Jamie on board is brilliant. Everyone I’ve asked to get involved has said definitely.”
Of course it also helps that Alex is fanatical about one food in particular – cheese. He even showcased several of his own cheeses at the Feastival. And despite the vast array of food available over the weekend, Alex likes to keep things simple and comforting when it comes to his favourite dishes. “I don’t think you can beat cheese on toast. Who doesn’t like cheese on toast? The good thing about cheese is that you don’t really need recipes. It’s like buying a Mars Bar, you just eat it. You don’t have to be intelligent to enjoy it. There are no skills required.”
The combination of food and music at both The Big Feastival and is another vital ingredient that connects the two foodies. “For me personally, music and cooking was always really close,” Jamie says. Having been in the same band from the age of 11 and semi-touring from the ages of 20 to 23, Jamie describes himself as “a bit of a frustrated musician.” Alex, on the other hand, pops back on stage with his bad Blur occasionally, but his primary focus is now the farm and food.
Jamie may not think The Big Feastival is the Glastonbury of food (yet), but he has enjoyed the success of the second year and looks forward to building on it. “As far as I’m concerned, when you do an event like this, the minute you can get rid of most of the tickets, the more robust and cocky you can be about what’s going on next time. It’s exciting.”
Another thing that makes the festival quite unique is the vast majority of the profits go to good causes. Jamie noticeably sits up and leans forward when talking about his charity work, obviously hugely proud. He beams: “It’s the tenth year of me running my charities: the Fifteen foundation, Ministry of Food, Kitchen Garden Project and they all require lots of money. Even though the way I’ve done it – the restaurant pays for the students – we never have surplus to do new, extraordinary things. But everyone that has come to this festival has contributed to the Fifteen foundation.”
For chefs and food fans, the Feastival marked the end of summer and a move towards shorter, colder and wetter days and for Jamie, a new season means new produce and recipes. “Now it’s all about tomatoes. We will be tomato-ed out with pumpkins around the corner. Pretty quickly we’ll end up going from lovely salads to soups and stews and comfort food. It’s a nice time of year actually, one of my favou rites.”
Another thing the new season brings is Jamie’s latest cook book. After the success of ’30-Minute Meals’, which became the best-selling and fastest non-fiction book in UK history, he’s set to release ‘15-minute meals’ in October. “15 is basically an everyday cookbook. You can eat from it every day of the week, it’s nutritionally controlled, calorifically controlled,” he explains. “It’s not a diet book, but absolutely your arse won’t get bigger if you eat from it every day, which is important to a lot of people.”
Quick to defend the criticism regarding unrealistic timings of ‘30-minute meals’, Jamie said: “It’s fast, but I know more than anyone I’m going to get battered if it doesn’t work. For a fact, more than anyone in the world, we always test more than anyone else. Some of these recipes had to be rewritten seven times.”
He explains that after roping in two nine-year-olds as his ‘15-minute meal’ testers, he had surprisingly pleasing results with the new recipes. “These kids were rattling in at 16 minutes, so it was like, if a nine-year-old can do it in 16 minutes, you know you’re in a strong place.” Jamie has filmed 40 shows to accompany the book, which will be on screens soon.
The former ‘naked chef’ has shown he was no 15-minute celebrity. Having charmed on the small screen, brought about change in government policy and now organising a successful music festival, life doesn’t seem to slow down for the charismatic Jamie Oliver who takes it all with a pinch of salt and a generous glug of olive oil.