I have a confession: I am a Jamie Oliver fan. This is recent. I remember not being impressed with his persona as the Naked Chef (was it Anthony Bourdain that said he was neither?). He was obviously excited about cooking and food, but he reminded me of that expensive novelty yarn that catches your eye at the LYS. Lovely and different, but what would you do with it?

But the last time we were in the UK, I realized that he is hugely popular there, and not just for the cooking. He established a restaurant, Fifteen, where he trained fifteen disadvantaged teenagers how to cook in a big city restaurant. It was so successful, that he established Fifteen restaurants Amsterdam and Melbourne.

Then he took on the British school food by taking over a kitchen in a school in Greenwich for a year. His goal was to make healthy food that the kids would eat. I saw one episode of the BBC series that documented this effort, and he was showing city kids where vegetables came from. The series resulted in a big change in school dinners, and earned him an MBE (Member of the British Empire).

My interest peaked when I started watching the series, Jamie at Home on the FoodNetwork. This series is filmed at his country estate in Essex, and he does seem right at home. He wanders around in his massive vegetable garden, dressed for whatever season it is, but always in his green wellies. In a recent episode, he takes a walk in a forest with a mushroom expert to gather wild mushrooms, wearing a well-worn Fair Isle hat. The cooking scenes are equally relaxed. Some are in his kitchen, some outside using a massive brick wood-burning stove. Some appear to be in a covered porch. He doesn’t use brand new cooking utensils, but stuff your Mom probably uses. He has those asbestos fingers that all professional chefs have, and can mince garlic and talk without drawing blood. I love the slang, some of which I also hear at home: Bob’s your uncle, and easy peasy, and as applied to cooking, full whack and whiz it (highest oven temperature and use the food processor).

I liked the cooking so much that I asked for the companion cookbook,
Jamie at Home for Christmas. It captures the show just right. The language is casual, and the recipes are easy and allow for a lot of improvising. It’s fun to read and the photos remind me of vacation snaps. But the emphasis is on using fresh, locally grown produce and meats. He urges the reader to grow something, even if it’s a tomato plant in an old boot, and to frequent farmers markets, and start relationships with local ranchers and fishermen.

On Sunday, The Husband and I made his Roast Shoulder of Lamb. It turned out quite nice. I can still smell the  garlic when I come in from the outside.

It went perfectly with the apple pie that I made for dessert.


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