F&W talks to Jamie Oliver, host of Food Network's The Naked Chef and Oliver's Twist and a new series, At Home with Jamie.
What do you think the goal of a cooking show should be? What distinguishes you from other TV chefs?
"The Naked Chef was quite crude; it was down at the fridge getting the herbs out, giving them a wash, giving them a flick dry. It was quite a tactile thing. The whole thing about The Naked Chef was, f*ck the chefs. They’re not going to help you cook better at home. Since when have they? They just bloody show off. I was trying on purpose not to be ’cheffy’ about it. And if I mentioned a slight thing like ’sauté’ or something like that, I explained it. An answer to cooking at home in a kind of methodical, realistic way, with real moms and dads who really cook. People like... what’s her name? Cutesy? That cute American bird who’s cleaning up in home cooking? Rachael Ray. As far as I know, she’s not a chef. She’s just a foodie. She has a show where she cooks everything in real time in half an hour; essentially, the foundations of her show are very real. That’s why she’s great. Above and beyond doing it, prerecording it and having it look ultra-beautiful, she’s gone for much more of that, ’Come on American public, let’s do it together, we’ve got half an hour to make three courses.’ It’s kind of genius in its simplicity, really. And that’s why she’s cleaning up.
"I just made a series called At Home with Jamie that I really, really love. I’ve really missed having a straight cooking show. I’ve been at home this year, just growing things in my garden and cooking them. I’ve been so happy. It’s been the best crew that I’ve worked with. The show looks tremendous. There’s no jeopardy, no campaign, no deep and underlying meaningful lesson. It’s just growing stuff, which in itself is magic and brilliant and relaxing. And cooking stuff—really good recipes. It’s just good cooking. The whole growing thing is quite new for me. I’ve only personally put stuff in the ground and pulled it out and cooked it for three years of my life. I’m a country boy, so I kind of did bits of it, but I’d never had my own veg garden, so that’s cool. The most inspirational, interesting stuff is the natural stuff. So when you can kind of take stuff on a bend and go with it and be excited about it, I mean, that’s really exciting. I think that’s the realness: The ability for the public to get you, listen to you, learn with you, or be inspired and escape with you. That’s what I think about, anyway."
What’s your advice to home cooks in the U.S.?
"Yanks are obsessed with equipment. And that’s cool, because the Yanks have got some really good equipment. But you don’t need that much. Spend your money on the right bits. Buy four really good knives. Spend a couple of hundred dollars, and you’ll have them into your 60s. Buy some big chopping boards instead of a load of bendy, cheap ones. It will cost you $100. Save up for it, aspire to it. You don’t need a set of 20 pans. You just need five or six really good ones: a griddle pan, a couple of really good fry pans, a big casserole pan, a good boiling pan, with big thick bottoms. It’s money well spent, really. There are very few things you do two or three times a day, every day for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not."
What are some of the best recipes you’ve made on-air and why?
"What’s really amazing is that in every book and series I’ve done, people—and I mean in great volume, in multiple countries, because I publish in about 35 countries and the program is on in about 50—often grab onto the same two or three recipes. And they’re often the ones that you just never think of, really. In the early days it was the midnight pan-cooked breakfast, and curries, and lots of roasting. They love anything to do with roasting chicken; they’re always all over that. It’s funny what people remember—like a fish pie from one of my books. And it’s a really good one. It’s kind of like, ’Do you have egg in it or not?’ ’Oh, definitely egg.’ ’No, I take the egg out.’ It’s really funny. Greek, Portuguese, Brazilian, they all pick the same ones. It’s really weird."
What is the worst experience you’ve had on TV? Any disasters?
"I haven’t really f*cked anything up glamorously. I wish I had. I think deep down that if you’re any good at it, when you’re on TV, you try to minimize big mistakes—even though the public loves them. I’ve just come from the Today Show, where I was doing crostinis, and I was burning the little crostinis. That’s only in front of God knows how many millions of people. Everyone burns toast. But when those cameras are running, baby, you just can’t stop. Especially if it’s live. You just gotta get it done."