The cook’s cook Jack Mon­roe on Jamie Oliver

The Guardian - Feast - - The Cook’s Cook -

One of the only books I had as a sin­gle mum on the dole was 30 Minute Meals. I had bought a copy at my lo­cal Water­stones while I was still work­ing at the fire brigade. It jumped out at me. At the time, cook­books were glossy, beau­ti­ful, as­pi­ra­tional, whereas this was: “Look, you can do this in half an hour or less, what are you wait­ing for?” And I thought, “All right, I’ll give it a go.”

I’ve riffed off his recipes so of­ten. All the pas­tas, the quick pizza doughs, the mush­room risotto, tomato soup, the cur­ries. I’d flick through the book, knock­ing out in­gre­di­ents I didn’t have and chang­ing them to fit what­ever

I could af­ford at the time. It is a com­fort­ing clas­sic.

The put­tanesca recipe is still one of my favourites. When I first read it, I’d never heard of the dish be­fore. Jamie uses fresh toma­toes, an­chovies and ca­pers, but I thought, I can make that with tinned stuff. I put it all to­gether and it was amaz­ing; it didn’t taste like I was eat­ing “poor per­son food”. There’s such a stigma around what peo­ple in dire fi­nan­cial cir­cus­tances can eat. And re­ally it was just a tin of toma­toes, a tin of fish, some le­mon juice, salt and pep­per. But it tasted like ac­tual great food. It’s cropped up again and again in my own books, in var­i­ous guises.

All Jamie’s early stuff was cheeky but en­cour­ag­ing. It’s how I try to com­mu­ni­cate with my read­ers now: sim­ple, chatty, bish bash bosh, come-into-my-kitchen ban­ter. And you can’t take away from what an im­pact that had on peo­ple’s cook­ing. It was rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

I don’t know if it’s be­cause he started out in a pub, or that he’s worked in kitchens, or that he is also rais­ing a fam­ily, but he meets it from ev­ery pos­si­ble an­gle.

His recipes are bril­liant. I’ve never made one that hasn’t worked. He’s not pre­scrip­tive or ob­ses­sive. To be sure, he loves what he loves, and al­ways places a great em­pha­sis on good-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, but there’s no con­de­scend­ing un­der­tone that if you don’t have this in­gre­di­ent, you can’t make this great recipe. And that in­stils great con­fi­dence in a cook. There’s real skill in be­ing able to give peo­ple both a set of in­struc­tions and the free­dom to do what­ever they want.

Con­fi­dence is im­por­tant. Lots of peo­ple don’t cook be­cause they’re scared to. What I loved about Jamie Oliver’s early work was his lit­tle kitchen, the sim­plic­ity of it all. His ex­e­cu­tion might have some­times been a lit­tle clumsy, but his ba­sic mes­sage of cook­ing what you can with what you’ve got is a good one.

If I did meet him, I would love to just cook for half a day with him and see what nuggets of wis­dom I could pick up. And I’d also want just to say thank you. His work has had a real im­pact on me. Even now, if I’m stuck for a recipe or an in­gre­di­ent, I’ll go on his web­site and have a lit­tle poke around.

Jamie Oliver: ‘His recipes are bril­liant. I’ve never made one that hasn’t worked. He’s not pre­scrip­tive, ob­ses­sive or con­de­scend­ing’

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