Jamie Oliver gave us our big break in the kitchen – and he’s still our hero

Jobs are at risk as his restaurant chain collapses, but apprentices from the Fifteen project say they will always back their mentor

When, in 2002, Jamie Oliver launched Fifteen, a not-for-profit restaurant designed to train up 15 disadvantaged, young, unemployed candidates into chefs, few expected it would be a success. The initiative was broadcast as a Channel 4 series – Jamie’s Kitchen – and ended with 12 apprentices completing the programme (three dropped out) and a restaurant that remained solidly booked out for months.

The show pulled in 5.4 million viewers, 24% of the audience share, at a time when Oliver’s reputation was taking a battering from the press. He was described as a “Hollyoaks reject” by the Guardian, “Benny from Crossroads does cooking” said the Mirror. “It may be hard for long-term fans of Master Oliver to fathom the profundity of the nation’s loathing for their mockney pin-up,” wrote one critic in the Independent, before reluctantly admitting that the show had transformed Oliver “from a national semi-pariah to a plausible hero”.

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