Added On: Friday, December 28, 2007

Fifteen - 5 years On

Mon 08 Oct 2007 Where did you think that Fifteen would be 5 years on when you started? Did you have a picture in your mind?
I hoped that there would be further Fifteen restaurants in other countries but to have got four restaurants opened in just 5 years, all in such great locations and all doing really well. It’s pretty mad that it’s progressed so quickly. It’s unbelievable to think that we have the 6th year of apprentices on board and in London alone we have over 50 graduates.

How do you deal with the fact that many people still do not know that Fifteen is a charity and that you do not take any profit from it?
I don’t really care. People don’t have to know about the charity behind the restaurants if they are interested I am sure that they will find out. It’s a restaurant at the end of the day and no matter how nice the cause is or how charitable or social, if the food isn’t brilliant people won’t come back.

When Fifteen first launched many other industries tried to follow suit. After being successful for 5 years what other industries could adopt the Fifteen model?
Anything that can be taught with a practical apprenticeship: carpentry, building, printing, design, music. At the end of the day it is about harnessing the enthusiasm and desire to succeed, that so many young people have, but don’t put in to practise because they struggle at school, or have other issues that take over their lives.

How do you feel when an apprentice graduates but then gives up cooking and finds a passion for something else?
I think that’s cool and I think it would be short-sighted to want to make everyone “mini me’s”. What’s lovely about the Fifteen Foundation is that it’s quite a social course. The apprentices get to meet a lot of people who work in many different areas of the food industry. They go to different countries and experience some of the best restaurants in world. Even though they are essentially taught the same syllabus, they graduate aspiring to do different things.

I think brilliant, it shows that the apprentices have genuinely been inspired, they’re thinking for themselves and what they want to do with their future. Only the other day one of the graduates, Nunzio came to see me to let me know that he has taken up painting and photography and that he has an exhibition coming up soon. His work really bloody good and he is totally into it and he is very passionate and has conviction. Good luck to him.
Another of the grads is now working in marketing. At first I was a bit upset that he wasn’t cooking anymore but actually he has a great job and he is focused. He took the Fifteen course and made a clear decision to go and do something else. I am very proud of him.

Much of the focus at Fifteen is on the apprentices themselves, but how about the Chefs that work there, have many gone onto succeed after their time at Fifteen?
We have the pleasure of employing and working with lots of different and very high quality chefs that help to train the apprentices. Everyone wants to develop their own careers and face new challenges, quite a few have gone on to work in restaurants all over the world. The chefs that work at Fifteen are not just chefs, they are a key part of the apprentices mentoring process and hopefully their ambition rubs off on the students too.

The kitchen at Fifteen is really open and often busy with diners when you are cooking. Aside from the kitchen, do you get to spend time with the Chefs and apprentices?
Fifteen is, and always will be a big part of my life, but as I said I don’t get a lot of time in the kitchen these days. Instead I try and touch base with the apprentices at all the relevant times; when they first come on board and graduation as well as various sourcing trips. At the same time it’s a fine balance between trying to be inspirational to them, or to be a mentor of some description, with out making it the “Jamie Oliver Show” because at the end of the day if we spoon fed the young people too much it would be a real shock when they got out into the industry for real.

I hear that your mentor Gennaro Contaldo is working at Fifteen in London. How is he getting on?
Brilliantly!! Gennaro has been an important part of Fifteen over the 5 years. He is a fantastic mentor, who really developed my passion for food, and he’s having the same effect on the students.
My theory is if you can put loads of positive and passionate experts in front of young people that may have had a tough time in their lives, then anything is possible, and they might surprise you (and themselves) and be amazing, which is very often that is the case.

In the past, you have said that your success is a result of luck and hard work. Do you still believe that?
Totally. I didn’t set out expecting to end up on the telly. I was just lucky to find a job doing something I really enjoyed. I grew up in the industry, my father was in it, my grandfather, my uncle as well and even relations from both sides of the family have been in the catering industry. In my case it’s in the blood and it was pretty much the only thing that I was ever good at. The rest has just been a rollercoaster ride.
If my special needs teacher at school could have known that I would go on to publish 8 best selling books she would have had a heart attack! Luck has definitely brought the opportunities my way, but it is about grabbing hold of them and working really hard as well.

What is the 1 gift that a graduate could give back to you that means more to you than anything else?
Sticking at it, whatever they end up doing. Be employed and decide that if they are going to spend a good part of their life doing in a job then they might as well enjoy it, like me and all the other chefs and mentors have taught them to and simply do the best that they can. It’s been a great year for Fifteen.



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