Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals
In the introduction to Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals, Oliver lays out his plan to get people cooking again by having them master at least one recipe from each of the fourteen chapters in the book. This is being called the “Pass it on Movement,” and it is the young chef’s hope that it will get Americans back in the kitchen and cooking healthy food. The introduction even ends with a pledge that Oliver encourages his readers to sign; it’s sort of a promissory note intended to guilt budding cooks into actually passing on their new culinary knowledge to the uninitiated.
Jamie's Food Revolution begins with a chapter on “Essentials,” which is basically a list of kitchen equipment and pantry items recommended by Oliver for aspiring cooks. I’m a serious home cook; I cook dinner at least six times a week and make most things from scratch, but Oliver’s lists intimidated the hell out of me. The chef’s intended audience for this book is the culinary challenged, those who’ve been relying on fast and/or convenient foods to get them through their days. Recommending that these people invest in over thirty kitchen tools and gadgets in order to be “well-rounded, efficient cooks” can make them feel overwhelmed. Admittedly, many people have cutting boards, can openers, and box graters, but asking a new cook to invest in a food processor, food scales, chef’s knives, and other tools may be asking too much. The list of pantry items is also large; it features seventy-five items. Though I can attest to the usefulness of having these ingredients on hand for quick and delicious meals, it may alienate his core audience. Trying to convince an inexperienced cook they need five different oils is crazy, but I almost have to commend Oliver for trying.
One of the biggest selling points of Jamie's Food Revolution is its affordable meals, but many of the recipes included feature expensive ingredients. For example, the first recipe calls for two filet mignon steaks, while others require leg of lamb, salmon, fresh tuna, and other meats and seafood. To me, this is just another example of a celebrity chef being out of touch with reality. This is only compounded by the fact that Oliver requests that everything be market fresh, organic, and free-range. The book includes photos and quotes by blue collar folks; all of them attesting to how these recipes changed their way of eating. Truth be told, teachers, single moms, and doormen can’t afford to feast on filet mignon, seafood paella, and roast lamb. I’d love it if everyone could eat organically and purchase produce directly from farmers, but it’s not realistic given the price range and availability of these items in most areas.
One chapter that really fits the bill for affordable cuisine is “Homely Ground Beef.” Here we learn to make meatballs (moist and delicious), Bolognese sauce (rich and comforting), and chili con carne, which wasn’t authentic, but quick, simple, and tasty nonetheless.
Enough with the criticism, let’s get to the good stuff: the food. Oliver, a recent recipient of the 2010 Technology, Entertainment, Design foundation prize, knows his stuff. Indian food has always been a mystery to me; it’s something I’ve always been intimidated by and terrified to cook. Thanks to Oliver, that’s no longer the case. The chef provides recipes for five different curry pastes, revealing the secrets behind korma, jalfrezi, Rogan josh, tikka masala, and vindaloo. The first things I tackled were Oliver’s recipes for chicken tikka masala (spicy, curried chicken), aloo gobhi (curried potato and cauliflower), and light and fluffy cilantro lime rice. Except for a substitution for the chicken tikka (I didn’t have boneless, skinless chicken, so I used chicken legs), everything turned out beautifully and at the end of the meal I truly felt as if I’d conquered a fear.
I owe a lot to Jamie Oliver. When I dropped out of college, I’d spend my days babysitting and watching his BBC show The Naked Chef, which I credit to helping me learn how to cook. Now that he’s revealed the secrets of Indian curry pastes to me, I’m forever grateful. I’m sure other home cooks will be just as thrilled with what the British chef has to offer.