Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Goodness of Jamie Oliver

Now a decade beyond his days as The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver is still at it, at as ambitious a pace as ever.

He has been criticized for all of his branding, his restaurants, his seemingly gimmicky product lines. I'd have lost respect for him if much of the work he's done didn't seem motivated by a genuine desire to help people eat better. And by "better," I don't mean lavish meals or making exact measurements or finding the exactly-right gadget-- I mean helping people learn about food and to build a real relationship with food beyond intake.

I don't just like Jamie Oliver for his catch phrases or his blond hair. I like him because he seems truly excited about food, about showing people how accessible it can be, and doesn't make too much of a fuss about cooking. While I can appreciate the exactitude with which some cooking shows demonstrate recipes, it doesn't strike a chord with me the same way at all.

He's done a lot of shows since The Naked Chef. He has a veritable empire of products, books, shows--even a magazine. His Wikipedia entry is extensive.

Yet the theme from the very first Naked Chef still resonates in everything that has come since. The title sequence of The Naked Chef has him as a rascally young twenty-something with a big mop of blond hair laying on a sofa rather indolently saying "Naked's what I call my way of cookin'... It's gotta be fresh, it's gotta be fun, it's gotta be fast, it's gotta be tasty.--It's not me, it's the food!" Each episode of practically every show of his that I've ever watched (and that's nearly all of them) is bent on making cooking seem like just that-- fast, fun, tasty.

The best way I can think to describe his way of cooking and teaching is that it is just utterly no-stick-up-yer-ass methodology. His hands get dirty. He never makes things seem complicated-- he just does them, maybe says something is a little tricky, but he never, ever makes cooking anything but accessible. At least for me.