One of Jamie Oliver's butchers closed for poor hygiene

HAVING built his £150m empire on the back of media exposure, Jamie Oliver has learnt to accept that whenever his career suffers a minor setback it will be celebrated by the press with a flurry of culinary-themed quips.

Questions are being asked as to whether Jamie is "trying to keep too many plates spinning" after rogue ingredients, including mould and mouse droppings, were discovered by public health officers in Barbecoa, his luxury butcher's in the City of London.

The hygiene failings - which led to a one star out of five rating for cleanliness - will have damaged the adjoining restaurant of the same name.

Health inspectors have previously exposed problems at Oliver eateries in London's Canary Wharf, Leeds, Edinburgh and Portsmouth - and Oliver will need to spend time with chef Gennaro Contaldo, his partner in Jamie's Italian, to shore up the reputation of the restaurant business.

It's only a few weeks since another newspaper wondered if Jamie had "bitten off more than he can chew", after the television chef closed three out of four branches of his British-themed Union Jacks restaurant chain.

But the reality is that Oliver's business is emerging from the economic downturn in good shape, despite the appetite in the press for his reputation to get burnt like those of Gordon Ramsay and Nigella Lawson.

The Jamie brand has not yet reached its sell-by date, unlike the Wagyu beef, marrow bone, oxtail, onglet and lomo de caña in the basement chillers at Barbecoa.

His Jamie's Italian restaurant chain continues to expand and had a turnover of £94m last year, with profits of £13.2m.

Although the growth of new outlets in the UK has slowed, expansion is planned into new territories including Australia, Russia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Jamie Oliver Holdings, which includes the chef's television and book interests, reported a 13.3 per cent growth in revenue last year, with pre-tax profits up 8.4 per cent to £9.7m.

He recently launched his own YouTube drinks channel. And next Friday he will try to break a Guinness world record for the most people cooking simultaneously. The target is a modest couple of thousand but Oliver will attempt to harness the internet and a global army of schoolchildren to push the record into seven figures.

At Oliver's business headquarters in north London, his "diary team" are already filling out his schedule for 2015. This process begins with allocating seven weeks to family holidays. Yet his PR team - part of a core staff of more than 250 - denies that he has lost control of his empire as it has grown.

"There is no question of Jamie being spread too thinly. The management team are there to run the businesses efficiently and effectively," they said.

Oliver is currently applying the final touches to Comfort Food, his next collection of recipes. It will be accompanied by a Channel 4 series that begins filming next month.


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