Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Billet Doux to Jamie Oliver (and some other TV chefs)

    After many years of being a real fan of hers, Nigella has lost me. These days, her programs seem to be warmed-over versions of her original ones--and all those faux sexy gestures have definitely lost their charm. Personally, I'm waiting for the moment when Nigella suggestively sticks her finger into boiling oil...
    Instead, my favourite TV chefs at the moment are, in no particular order, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Ina "Barefoot Contessa" Garten and Jamie Oliver. Googling "TV" plus the name you're curious about should take you where you want to go.
    Reasons? Maybe because they don't call themselves "chefs"for one thing.
    Known as Hugh Fearlessly-Eats-It-All--because he appears to be willing to put almost anything in his mouth (maybe he and Nigella should collude) Hugh F-W lives at River Cottage, a bucolic haven where he grows, harvests, cooks and feeds huge armies of people. He always makes it look very doable, so sometimes I do. I'm thinking of a blazingly pretty salad of carrots, oranges and cashews and a silky plate of leeks cooked in coconut milk. Simply by creating flavours that anyone in their right mind wants to eat, Hugh F-W has done wonders for popularizing vegetable dishes.
     I've long been a fan of Nigel Slater who looks more like an academic than a cook. Besides being a regular columnist in The Guardian, he's also written a book that slingshots me right back to my English childhood. Kia Ora, The Jaffa Cake, The Cadbury's Flake...if any of these names causes a twinge of nostalgia, you need a copy of Eating for England: The Delights & Eccentricities of the British at Table.
     The only non-Brit to make the cut, American Ina Gartner would fit right in with Hugh, Nigel and Jamie. "Largesse" is the first word I think of when I think of Ina although I'm not sure that the health police would approve of her generosity with butter and cream. Their loss. She doesn't faff around with twee decorative touches. She also has the same measuring spoons that I do.
     Finally, I'm a huge fan of Jamie Oliver because he uses his fame in the right way, mostly, by genuinely trying to help people eat healthier food.  
     The other night, I came on a program called "Jamie Does Venice." God, that's a beautiful city. It really doesn't have a single bad angle. Overlooked quite often is that it also has a woman's prison which, Jamie, bless him, visited (which is the kind of thing he does). 
    Not sure if it was there that he cooked a risotto, but he cooked it somewhere and, instead of the usual seafood or veg, topped it with uncooked tomatoes, basil and parmesan. Then he made a little salad on the side using courgette flowers.
    Hmmm, I thought. Got all those, and got some arborio rice. So, the following evening, out I went with my tiny axe, gave the vegetable patch 40 whacks and came back with this: 

       The salad wasn't totally garden-grown as I added some thinly sliced fennel for crunch.
But all in all, a pleasant and easy little summer supper. A tip of the hat to Monsieur Oliver.

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