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Jamie Oliver on staying relevant, succumbing to clickbait, courting online reviews

Last Updated Oct 23, 2017 at 9:20 am EST

TORONTO – Over the course of nearly 20 years in the business, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has had to come up with all sorts angles to lure audiences to a steady stream of TV shows and books.

His cookbooks alone have rotated through a variety of spins: money-saving meals, super-food meals, 30-minute meals, and 15-minute meals.

And now Oliver believes he’s discovered the hook readers are really after with his latest tome: “5 Ingredients — Quick and Easy Food.”

“This one is selling faster than anything I’ve ever done before so somehow something is resonating more than before — and I’m trying to work that out at the moment,” Oliver says in a recent phone interview from London.

“I always thought it was speed or ease or cost that might be the kind of deal-breaker, and I think those things are powerful, I think those things are really powerful but weirdly … I actually believe now the shorter the shopping list seems to be the one.”

It wasn’t easy to come up with such simple recipes, though, and Oliver concedes that a lot of the entries require a side dish to be considered a meal, or are more like side dishes themselves.

“Maybe half of the dishes are kind of complete, per se, but I think possibly, the sort of social media revolution has sculpted some of my thinking in this book more than others,” he allows, adding it nevertheless offers weary cooks some inspiration.

“Do people want complete dishes or do they want parts? And seemingly, offering up some great noodle dishes or rice dishes — because people are bored of the ones they keep doing — seems to be working.”

The book comes out Tuesday and serves as a companion to Oliver’s new TV series, “Jamie’s Quick and Easy Food,” starting Wednesday on Gusto.

While he admits to possibly succumbing to the influence of clickbait culture, Oliver does have qualms about some social media-driven trends, including Instagram-friendly lighting in restaurants and the chase for stellar online reviews.

He’s especially peeved by an apparent push in some London restaurants to get diners to post glowing reviews before they leave the table.

“You can kind of get up to five stars if you incentivize every waiter to put a tablet in front of every customer that has a good time,” notes Oliver.

“I don’t like the idea of being forced to do a review when you’re in a restaurant. (But) what you have to remember is people generally complain more than they credit and … I know restaurants that won’t let a customer go unless they’ve signed something just to keep their five stars up.”

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Oliver’s breakout series, “The Naked Chef,” and he’s feeling especially reflective.

“It feels like a bit of a moment for me, personally,” says Oliver, whose varied career has included high-profile campaigns to address child nutrition and tax sugary drinks.

“I kind of want to maybe be a little bit more, dare I say it, strategic. Everyone thinks I’ve been strategic to this point, I can assure you I haven’t. I’m doing a master’s (degree) in nutrition at the moment and … personally I want to get some bigger things done in the next 10 years.”