Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jamie's 30-Minute Meals

Far from lecturing and patronising, Jamie Oliver is actually suggesting that good and healthy food should be accessible to everybody.

I like Jamie Oliver.

Britain's most recognised chef has taken so much stick over the last few years amidst accusations that he is "lecturing people" (quote: Health Minister Andrew Lansley over Jamie's School Dinners) and meddling with their eating habits.

And yet, in a media world where celebrities, chefs included, seem to be earning fame and plaudits by virtue of shouting the F-word (literally) or the C-word louder than the next person, Jamie Oliver deserves praise for keeping away from cheap shots and loud-mouthed gimmicks.

More than anything, however, Oliver deserves credit for dishing out tons of advice on how to make your own food without ever coming across as inaccessible or over-complicated. Which is no easy feat.

At first glance, some of the dishes included in his latest series Jamie's 30-Minute Meals may look extremely elaborate and offputting. And yet they're not. It's amazing how much you can do in less than thirty minutes and with the simplest of ingredients.

More, Oliver's programme is based on extreme realism.

Pre-packed artificial microwaveable ready meals have become such a tempting option for most (this blog included) because, after a long day at work, the last thing most people fancy is a gruelling cooking session or a supermarket quest for exotic ingredients.

Which is why, far from lecturing and patronising, Jamie Oliver is actually on a mission to make simple yet good and healthy food accessible to everybody and not just the wealthy.

Most importantly, he doesn't think -shock horror- that everything has to be made from scratch. What matters, like Oliver himself writes: "this kind of cooking is all about using every minute wisely, having fun and reclaiming your kitchen for the job it was meant for".


cim said...

Oliver is well-intentioned, perhaps, but he's basically got no clue whatsoever about how people's lives outside the kitchen can make it much harder for people to spend 30 minutes cooking every day. He's treating it as if the problem is "they just don't have the right recipes" and that's generally the least of the problems. He's trying to solve a structural problem by "fixing" individuals, and that never ends well. So, yes, "inaccessible", "lecturing" and "patronising" are all adjectives I think are accurate for his work.

30 minutes is not a "quick" meal, unless you're a chef who's used to taking hours to prepare meals normally.

Add in inexperience - especially with the "how to salvage a minor mistake and prevent it becoming a disaster" end of cooking - and it either takes longer or doesn't work at all.

Use, by professional chef standards, a completely inadequate set of cooking tools, and it'll take longer.

Remember that then you've got to wash all the pots and pans, afterwards, too, which never gets counted in "cooking time".

Add in a fatigue, co-ordination, or planning-related disability, and it gets even more difficult.

Add in hungry children who need to have an eye kept on them, or be entertained, and it takes longer.

Tiny freezer/fridge/cupboards? Less space to store useful staple ingredients for a variety of quick meals. Having to buy stuff in every time adds to both the inconvenience, time cost, and monetary cost.

The Pedagogy of Obesity Reality Shows by Dr Arya Sharma is an interesting read on this subject.

Madam Miaow said...

The relentless attacks on him only came after he exposed the scandal of school dinners. A swathe of the food industry was cut down. I wonder if the two are in any way related.

Marios said...

It's a far cry from Nigella proposing recipes with ingredients that can only be found in select and exclusive delis in Kensington with valet parking. Goat Mountain indigo pepper, hand-picked by pixies anyone?

D. Quail (expat) said...

Have you tried cooking one of those recipes? 30 minute meals my arse - they take ages.

Plus, he is a giant twat.

[Disclosure: someone bought me the book for Christmas]

asquith said...

What you are saying, cim, applies to very few people. They are outnumbered by people who don't cook because they aren't confident in the kitchen, or who put other things first. Now I don't agree with this attitude, I think very few things are more important than what goes into our bodies. I'd certainly rather eat decently than wear designer clothes, for example. I don't have a TV but if Oliver successfully challenges the idea that good food is unimportant then he should be commended.

I like Fearnley-Whittingstall, I think his columns & those of Mark Hix & Nigel Slater show a true love that can't be feigned. Hugh F-W has also shown support for some producers located near me, causes for which he won't have won any acclaim because almost no one has ever heard of them. He acted purely because he beleived in it, so I certainly thought more of him when I heard about that.

As for his mannerisms- well, mine put some people off too. It can't always be helped. If he has a tosserish way of acting, that doesn't have to condemn him altogether.

I make all my own meals but I don't read cookery books, I just invent recipes & cook the same stuff over & over. I don't generally cook for others, though they often do like my style when do. Felicity Cloake is the only writer whose recipes I actually use.

claude said...

So basically, cim, according to what you wrote Jamie Oliver's programme would be fine if it was called "Jamie's 30-minute meals but bear in mind potential problems and make sure you have the right set of cooking tools and also entertain the children at the same time then and only then you can call it 30-minute meal but be warned that doesn't include washing up time".

Would that be ok?

cim said...

claude: Not so much what it's called, but the attitudes behind it. 30 minutes in ideal conditions is all very well. 30 minutes in real conditions is much harder. If he really wants to make accessible meals, then the target should probably be 10 minutes and 1 pot. (Conversely, I wouldn't see a problem with demonstrating 30-minute recipes if they weren't pushed as "so easy everyone should do it")

I consider myself to be a reasonable cook. I don't have any of the counter-factors I mentioned applying to me at the moment. I don't use ready meals (though I used to, and don't feel there's anything wrong with doing so). But between work and wanting to spend time with friends and family rather than in the kitchen, 30 minutes is far more than I'd be willing to spend on routinely cooking a meal - that's actually putting some effort in. If I just want something tasty and filling with minimal effort, I'd be looking at my mental recipe selection for the 10-15 minute range. (And minimal pots and pans so the washing up can be done in 5)

asquith: Oh, I'm not condemning him utterly. I think some of the work he did on school meals was very good. It's some of the other things he's done since that I think have been misguided and full of his unacknowledged privilege.

And nowt wrong with putting other things before cooking. I enjoy cooking and don't always have the energy to do anything fancy. If I found it a chore then the idea of spending 30 minutes on it would be an absolute turn-off.

FlipC said...

What interesting comments. 30 minutes is a quick meal for a multi-dish recipe of some complexity - if you want something quicker bung some pasta in a pan and a sauce in the microwave, but don't come complaining to me if that's all you can ever cook.

Then oh boo-hoo this doesn't take into account inexperience or making mistakes. Is this a reflection that when you first attempt or emulate a task you should be able to get it right first time every time otherwise what's the point? Damnit I don't have time to learn I should just be able to watch this show and instantly be able to do it; isn't that what was promised?

Washing-up afterwards oh woe is me yeah that 30-minutes doesn't include that does it or having to actually go out and buy and find the ingredients.

Having to entertain the hungry kids? If they can't stay out of trouble for half-an-hour I think there's a bigger problem than what you're feeding them.

To me this smacks of the Delia egg backlash. 'Everyone' complains that people can't cook and then complain that chefs are being patronising when they try to address that deficiency.

claude said...

Spot on, FlipC. Couldn't have put it better myself.