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Jamie Oliver: My first cookbook was ‘written on the back of beer mats’

The TV chef has lifted the lid on his beginnings before the launch of his new series where aspiring chefs battle for a book deal.

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Jamie Oliver has told of his beginnings as a cookbook writer ahead of his new show (Matt Alexander/PA)

Jamie Oliver has told of his beginnings as a cookbook writer ahead of his new show (Matt Alexander/PA)

Jamie Oliver has told of his beginnings as a cookbook writer ahead of his new show (Matt Alexander/PA)

Jamie Oliver has said his first cookbook was made out of recipes written on the “back of fag packs and beer mats” left in a bin bag.

The TV chef and restaurateur, 46, said if he “was a horse in a race, you would never have put a bet on me”, as he spoke to Radio Times ahead of the launch of his new show next week.

Oliver will oversee a group of aspiring cookbook authors for The Great Cookbook Challenge with Jamie Oliver as they try to win a book deal.

The Channel 4 show has caused him to look back on his own beginnings, before his first cookbook was released.

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Jamie Oliver had his breakthrough with The Naked Chef on the BBC in 1999 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Jamie Oliver had his breakthrough with The Naked Chef on the BBC in 1999 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Jamie Oliver had his breakthrough with The Naked Chef on the BBC in 1999 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

He told Radio Times: “I was a special needs kid from school and I never thought I’d write a book.”

Oliver’s breakthrough came with the BBC series, The Naked Chef, in 1999, but he was told: “Oh, it’s a shame. Normally, we do a cookbook with a series.”

He added: “I said, ‘I’ve got one. I’ve written down all my recipes for the last five years and they’re in a bin liner.’”

Oliver said there were “hundreds” of recipes in the bag written “on the back of fag packs, beer mats and order checks”.

After signing the book deal, he said he set about learning about the publishing industry – even living in the Penguin offices and personally dressing bookshop windows to promote his cookbooks.

Oliver went on to become a household name and has campaigned for better food standards in schools and his Food Revolution campaign fights for children’s rights to nutritious foods, with the aim of cutting child obesity in half by 2030.

Despite his successes, Oliver still thanks his own inspirations, including Marco Pierre White – with whom he said he does not get on – and Delia Smith.

Ahead of the series’ launch, Oliver said the first cookbook he was given was written by Smith.

He added: “She knew there’s a logic between simplicity, accessibility and aspiration.

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“You have to have the balance right.”

The Great Cookbook Challenge will air on Channel 4 on Monday, January 31.

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