"I never expected this, you know?" Jamie Oliver, the host of England's wildly popular The Naked Chef cooking show, said. "I never expected to be on TV. Then the books, the restaurant, the travel..." It was 7:30 in the morning, or some barbaric hour like that, and Oliver had been pulling 18-hour days since he arrived in New York the week before to tape a Christmas special. But he was remarkably relaxed, sitting loose-limbed in an armchair as though he'd been poured there, his trademark blond tousle hinting even more of the bedroom than usual. "It's all really about the food..."
That statement was a perfect bridge between publicity and fact. After all, that's Oliver's Naked Chef persona right there: He is billed as the regular bloke's TV chefyoung Britain's own affable laddo of the culinary arts. He never wanted to be a celebrity, but it's all a bit of a laugh, innit?and anyway, it's the food that's important. You get the impression he's said that sort of thing a thousand timesbut that each time he says it, he means it.
Oliver has been called a culinary rock star because of his looks and slangy, Cockney delivery, and the cinema verité feel of his show (the cooking segments are filmed at his house in London, in real time with a handheld camera and a cool, Britpop sound track)and also because of his quick ascent into celebrity. In 1998, he was a senior sous-chef at London's River Cafe when he appeared in a documentary on the restaurant. The day after it aired, the telegenic Oliver found himself blizzarded with offers from TV producers, and the smash BBC series that resulted has since burgeoned into an empire. Oliver's second cookbook is out in the United Kingdom (his first recently came out in America), and he holds gigs as a restaurant consultant, a columnist for the Saturday Times of London and a contributing editor at British GQ. He took over the kitchen at Monte's, a private club in London, in July. Most recently, his show debuted in the U.S. on the Food Network in November. Plus, Oliverand there are no doubt people who hate him for thisis only 25.