Updated: Apr 18, 2019
Well, it's been 20 years since Jamie Oliver first hit our TV screens as the fresh-faced cheeky Essex boy, who turned the cooking world on its head. He stood out from everyone else and made cooking accessible to a younger generation.
Jamie was able to accomplish this by making food relaxed, fun, easy to understand, and gave you the confidence to want to have a go, regardless of your abilities. He also gave lads another reason to show off to girls...
’Hey tiger, fancy coming round to mine?’ I'll knock you up some pukka tucker’.
But before Jamie was bringing food to the masses in his unique bish bash bosh style of cooking, we’d had a completely different breed of TV chefs gracing our screens.
Growing up, I remember my mum would be continuously recording different chefs on TV, trying to catch a recipe. What would happen so often, is that by the time she found a new video and loaded it, she would miss the start of the recipe. She would then frantically try to remember what was said, and get it down on paper, ending up with half the recipe on tape, and the other half in writing. Unfortunately, what would happen occasionally, is that in her haste to record the recipe, she would record over a previous recipe yet to be tried out on the family. Apart from the memory of my mum running around like a blue-arsed fly, with random parts of recipes scribbled down on paper, tapes flying in and out of the VCR more times than flight plans at Heathrow; the other thing I always remember was the chefs on the TV she was recording at the time.
The one thing that stood out about all those TV chefs was, and I don’t mean any disrespect; but to me, they all seemed a bit boring. They were all cooking similar stuff, and in the same style. Maybe it was just a generational thing, perhaps I was too young to understand, or too immature to appreciate what they were doing. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t find it appealing nor very interesting; and it most definitely didn’t make me want to get up, get in the kitchen and start cooking. Fast forward a few years to 2003 when my wife then girlfriend and I moved into our first home, things began to change in the way of food.
Sat on my sofa channel surfing my way through Sky, I somehow came across a program that would change my views on food forever. That program was ‘The Naked Chef’. From the moment I started watching I was mesmerised and amazed; I couldn't believe what I was seeing. A young lad that looked around my age, wearing normal clothes, not a chef’s jacket in sight, just jeans and a top, reaching out of his kitchen window and grabbing a handful of fresh herbs from his window box. Cooking for his friends, family and of course Jools. The show was mainly filmed inside of his London flat which had a spiral staircase. The only way Jamie knew how to get down it was by sliding on the bannister. Once at the bottom, Jamie would hop on his old school scooter and buzz around town picking up everything he needed for what he was cooking. Each episode of the show specialised in cooking for a different occasion. Either he was cooking for his then band, or for Jools and the girls before they headed out on a girly night out.
He wasn’t just showing us how to make a certain dish, he was letting us into his world and sharing his passion and enthusiasm for food. The Naked Chef was never about fancy cooking; it was amazing salads, fantastic pasta’s, risotto and succulent roasted meats. He was stripping back the recipes hence the name The Naked Chef, cooking from his heart for everyday people.
I vividly remember that after watching the show I needed to go out and buy the book, so off I went in search of The Naked Chef. Once in the shop, I discovered that Jamie had already been around for a couple of years and had more than one book to his name. I picked up The Naked Chef and The Return Of, signalling the start of my love affair for recipe books. I hurried home with my new purchases eager to get in the kitchen. Back on my sofa, I started to read through both books cover to cover, like a child scouting through the Argos catalogue initialling everything he wants for Christmas. The very next day I was in the kitchen doing my best Jamie Oliver impression. To start off with, I wasn't terrific although I did persevere, and carried on trying my best. It wasn't long before I had a couple of tasty dishes under my belt.
As well as doing as much cooking as possible I became an avid reader of recipe books, and the food channels become my place of worship. I even started watching the TV shows and chefs that at one point in my life I’d found boring, but now I had a newfound respect for them. This may sound silly, but the food channel was almost like school for me because the more I watched, the more I learned. I couldn’t get enough. I'm still the same to this day, I'm always watching reruns of food programs, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve previously viewed them.
When it comes to cooking shows, Jamie has always had, and still to this day has a special gift not limited to his cooking abilities. The gift of being so engaging that he draws you into the process, making you want to jump into the TV and join in alongside him. You can't help but be captivated. Whenever he is in front of the camera, he comes across so naturally; making it fun and so effortless. When you throw Gennaro into the mix, it notches it up to another level. Has there ever been a better TV duo then Jamie and Gennaro??? I think not!!! They have such a beautiful relationship and make you want to be around them both.
I think it's safe to say that I owe Jamie a lot as he has been a real inspiration to myself, and to many people around the world. He’s responsible for getting so many of us into the kitchen, either as a home cook or as a professional chef. Let us not forget that the bus does not stop and start in the kitchen with Jamie, over the last 20 years he’s built an eponymous empire, providing jobs and better lives for people. He's also tried, and still is trying to tackle some significant issues such as child obesity, and I commend him for all his efforts to making this a more healthier, tastier, happier and better world for all of us.
Mr Oliver, I salute you, respect you, admire you, look up to you and I sincerely thank you for everything you have done. Hopefully, one day, our paths will cross, and I will be able to thank you in person but until that day, once again thank you.
Here’s to the next 20 years.
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