Jamie Oliver scribbled his first book onto the back of cigarette packs, cheques and scraps of paper solely to keep the recipes on record. It wasn’t until the opportunity to publish a cookbook presented itself that Jamie gathered all of these recipes together into a collection. Fourteen books later, Jamie is an old pro, and is finally at a stage in which he can pay homage to his country. After all, he says, “Eventually everyone comes home.”
Jamie was in Toronto this past weekend to promote his newest book, Jamie's Great Britain: 130 of My Favorite British Recipes, From Comfort Food to New Classics. Friday evening, Jamie sat down with CBC’s Matt Galloway in front of an audience of fans at Massey Hall for a chat about his career, crusades and of course, what he loves to eat.
Jamie’s path has taken him in a number of directions, since he learned to cook at a very young age in his parents’ pub. (To the delight of a seven year old in attendance, the first dish he mastered was a tomato omelette). Today Jamie is back where he started, with his focus on great British Food. Jamie's Great Britain is filled with British classics, and some modern interpretations that represent the multicultural nature of Britain today. For Jamie, British food is all about nostalgia. “This dish is like a big old hug,” he says about each recipe in the book. “It makes you feel really loved.”
Jamie’s career started on television, with the Naked Chef, the wildly popular series (not about nudity) about simple ingredients. Jamie recalls television programs at the time as being “buttoned up”, with “chefs in whites with big chef hats and Michelin stars.” People were “ready for something in more layman's terms, [something] a little looser.” Now that television cooking shows have changed considerably, Jamie continues to use television as a medium. He is passionate about teaching people how to cook, because it gives them the power to live better. “If you can cook 10 recipes,” he says,”you can save your life.”
These days, Jamie’s focus is balanced between what he calls “the four corners of his life”: cookbooks, restaurants, family and TV - all of which involve him cooking. Food is still a worthy passion, as he is inspired by the state of food now. The culinary scene today has of young blood, enthusiasm, intelligence, knowledge of history and use of modern science – all of which are incredibly interesting. “We are more informed and knowledgeable,” Jamie says about present-day cooks. “We have greater access to ingredients from exciting countries, and more knowledge about how to use them. And besides that we are growing and procuring our own ingredients.” Jamie, the avid gardener, suggests starting with tomatoes and chilies. “You have never eaten a potato until you grow it yourself,” he says with a smile, warning “then you get geeky and go heirloom.”
Jamie is, however, the first to admit that the best meals are not all about the food. Quality, presentation and taste are only relevant to a point. The best meals are about the memories, and who you shared them with. If he had a choice, Jamie says, his last meal would be his mom’s roast with his family, listening to his dad’s “every time mom makes pot roast” speech.
Jennifer Myers is lead web designer on Foodnetwork.ca & HGTV.ca. She loves deconstructing recipes in her mostly all-white loft with her mostly all-white French Bulldog.
by Jennifer Myers