LONDON (Reuters) - Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, already under fire for criticizing the diet of Britain's poor, has said all his restaurants would close immediately if it were not for European immigrants who make far better workers than "wet behind the ears" Britons.
The gabby 38-year old, who inspired home cooks across Britain with his "pukka tukka" or nutritious food recipes, said European workers were tougher and stronger than their British contemporaries and willing to work longer hours in hot kitchens.
In an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, the television chef whose cheeky working class personality has driven up his TV viewing figures and recipe book sales, criticized Britons for complaining about work hours restricted to 48 hours under European Union regulations.
"And they still whinge about it. British kids particularly, I have never seen anything so wet behind the ears. I have mummies phoning up for 23-year-olds saying to me, 'My son is too tired.' On a 48-hour-week! Are you having a laugh?," he said.
"I think our European immigrant friends are much stronger, much tougher. If we didn't have any, all of my restaurants would close tomorrow. There wouldn't be any Brits to replace them."
Immigration is a major issue ahead of Britain's 2015 election - this month the opposition Labour party toned down its criticism of retailers Tesco and Next after initially planning to accuse them of favoring cheaper workers from Eastern Europe over British employees.
Next said it hired Polish nationals at busy times but said it did so because it could not find enough Britons to fill vacancies and it was not doing anything unethical or illegal.
"It's all very well when people are slagging off (criticizing) immigration and I'm sure there are problems," Oliver said.
"Older people always complain about youth and I think it's a good thing because it is always changing. The young will be better at different things. But long hours in hot kitchens is not one of them."
Oliver hit global stardom on the back of his quest for healthier school meals in Britain that earned him an MBE award from Queen Elizabeth in 2003.
He has numerous books and television shows - the latest focused on cutting down food bills. His own wealth estimated at 150 million pounds ($233 million), Oliver came under fire this week for criticizing the food choices of Britain's poor.
In a separate interview, Oliver told the Radio Times magazine he found it "quite hard to talk about modern-day poverty" after seeing families living on cheap, processed food but spending on large, top-of-the range television sets and other high-tech gadgets.
He described a scene from one of his shows, where a mother and child ate chips and cheese out of styrofoam containers with a huge television behind them, saying "it just didn't weigh up".
"Seven times out of 10, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families. The ready meals, the convenience foods," he said.
"I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence and knocks out the most amazing pasta."
"Some of the most inspirational food in the world comes from areas where people are financially challenged."
His comments were met with angry criticism online with some Twitter users pointing to the price of producing his recipes while charity Child Poverty Action Group said low incomes can be a barrier to healthy eating.
Editing by Paul Casciato