Monday, 3 January 2011

Sticking Up For Jamie


I came across an article today on the Daily Mail Online website. It basically said that Jamie Oliver has been badly criticised for writing a book full of recipes that take supposedly take 30 minutes when some people have still been in their kitchens cooking them two and a half hours later. They have also complained that cooking the meals generates too much washing up and makes use of ingredients that are too expensive.

Firstly, having read through the book and tried out a few of the meals, I really do feel that I want to stand up and say something in his defence. Yes, there were moments while I was reading when eyebrows were raised - such as his claim that you can kit your kitchen out completely (including kettle, liquidizer and microwave) for £300. I'm sure it costs more than that - my food processor is a bog standard one, nothing flash and cost about £100 on its own. And I couldn't agree that four different sized frying pans were essential; I cook practically everything on the hob in a large non-stick wok. But for the most part, I really do think that the book does a good job. And here are my reasons why:
 
The Recipes Won't Take The Same Time for EVERYONE
For a book to claim that every recipe inside it will take EVERYONE 30 minutes to make it and that's it, would be pretty naive. Some of those complaining are blaming the marketing of the book. But in the book's introduction, Jamie actually says "if at first you run a little over time and your kitchen is a bit messy, please don't worry". Doesn't sound like someone making ambitious claims. He also says that the most revolutionary thing about the book is "not that they can be cooked quickly (they can) ... it's that I've written them in a completely unique way." (This unique way being that they are grouped as meals, rather than single dishes.)

In cooking there are really too many variables that mess up cooking times, like anything really in life. And, unlike Jamie, most of us have to pause inbetween whisking egg whites to check the next step of the recipe or to retrace our steps to make sure we are doing something right. We've all started preparing something to put in the oven only to realise we've forgotten to preheat it and now we have to wait longer. We forget that in the series, Jamie is doing it all, confidently, in his head.

The Recipes Make Use of All the Ingredients, Cutting Waste
Recipe for Wonky Summer Pasta contains two egg yolks. The dessert that goes along with it contains two egg whites. They are used, that day, in the meringue - and not left in a pixie-sized bowl in my fridge covered in cling film until I end up throwing them away countless days later. I also noticed in one of the TV episodes of the series that Jamie showed us how to stick the cut end of a chilli pepper in some salt so it lasts longer and doesn't "go minging". That's good, right?

Cooking at Home From Scratch Does Create Washing Up
I cooked for my sister and my nephew, as well as all of us here on New Year's Day. When she came into the kitchen afterwards it looked as if a bomb had hit it. I had cooked for seven. Using food processors, bowls, spoons and saucepans will create the need to wash it afterwards. I'm not sure about the people complaining that a cook book made them have to wash up but it seems natural to me that it would. For us, we didn't care that we were up to our elbows in the sink - we'd just had a great meal that tasted fab.

The Recipes Use Expensive and Inexpensive Ingredients
Yes, even I widened my eyes while Jamie seared two gigantic whole beef fillets in a pan and then transferred them to the oven while cooking his 30-minute roast beef dinner on TV. It is expensive - the recipe stating 700g beef fillet to feed four people. But like he says in the introduction: "I didn't set out to make this a budget cookbook; there are meals in here to satisfy the foodiest of foodies". That said, the majority of recipes do call for inexpensive ingredients, such as chicken breasts and thighs, sausages, sardines (super-cheap) and lots of vegetables. There are the more expensive things, including duck breasts - but no one is forcing anyone to cook anything. If duck breasts or beef fillet is a tad expensive then choose something else. And there really is plenty to choose from.

I hope that this has given a more balanced view of the book - it's easy to read something in the press and believe it but I just felt I had to step in and give my views. I'd love to hear about your experiences using the book. Was it easy? Did you run over time? Let me know in the comments box below! 

To see the Daily Mail article, click here. Also, check out Jamie's 30-Minute Meals on Amazon (affiliate link):

11 comments:

  1. I don't have the book, but your review seems fair and I certainly like the idea of the 'meal' combos. I have those egg whites in a bowl in the fridge right now lol!

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  2. Thanks Janice, and I never can be bothered to get the whisk out and get the oven on for meringues! Then they are left too long to freeze. At least this way it makes you use them up! Thanks for your comment :)

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  3. I didn't read the book, but I am in the business and know that reviews can be really subjective, and sometimes even cruel.

    Not easy to write a book, need to consider your readers, never underestimate them (they may know more than you) and never overestimate them (they may not know how to peel an onion!).

    Anyway, he sold a lot of books, I don't think that he is worried about a silly article in the newspaper.

    ciao and Happy New Year

    Alessandra

    PS
    first time here

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  4. I have made the tomato soup twice and it took about an hour or so for me. It would take less time if the food was all prepped but I measure and cut as I go along. Maybe next time I'll get things ready first. But time aside I loved the soup. Worth the work and wait.

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  5. The Guardian did a hatchet job on this book when it was released. They assigned a number of their food writers and journalists a recipe and then got them to write up the results. What made me laugh was that all their criticism seemed to be that the recipes didn't work, or took too long and created a mess. Yet every single one of them didn't bother to buy the correct ingredients, making strange substitutions and skipping steps with bizarre excuses like "who can be bothered to go to a supermarket during the week?".

    If they can't even follow the recipe of course it won't work!

    I think the criticism that the meals take longer than 30 minutes is very unfair. Most people won't be using it to cook a 3 course meal every night, but instead they will take one course and cook that on a weeknight. The purpose of the book is to show that you can cook a good meal, from scratch in a relatively short amount of time.

    You can do them in 30 minutes, but it takes organisation, practice and skill. Something not just achieved by reading the recipe.

    Chris

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  6. The Guardian do seem to have it in for Jamie Oliver right now - the stitching up that Chris refers to above is here - http://tinyurl.com/2wdt2yw - and Julie Bindel's patronising and pompous opinion at http://tinyurl.com/2uc49d9. Bindel has obviously missed the point, and Susan Smillie picture shows at best, a crap sense of humour, and at worst, idiocy, by leaving Jasmine Tea Bags in the rice.

    I have the book, and I don't think its the best thing since sliced bread, mainly because I don't think the recipes are that inspiring. JO writes, at the start of the book, a few pages on being organised, getting used to the new method etc, so The Guardian should have assigned 'journalists' that were interested in giving the book a fair shout, not just sticking the knife in. I'd expect this sort of writing from The Sun. I don't know what The Guardian's problem with JO is.

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  7. Thanks for this very honest, well-balanced post. I am no fan of Jamie the person, but I do love his recipes (it's just all that 'bish bash bosh/lovely jubbly' palaver gets on my nerves). Anything that the Daily Mail hates, I instantly love!

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  8. I agree with what you've written and thought the same things when I saw the article. I think some people are buying this book and expecting it to be as easy as chucking a ready meal in the oven!
    Cooking from scratch takes practice but once you get into the hang of it there's no going back.
    Good for you for putting this out there!

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  9. Loved reading all your comments, it really put some perspective on the story. For the record, for lunch today I made the Tapas meal from the book and it took me 35 minutes (I timed it!) from start to finish, but then I would say that a good 10 minutes of that was faffing about in cupboards looking for equipment and ingredients. All because I didn't get organised in the beginning. *slaps wrist* So I didn't think that was bad going actually.

    Thanks everyone for your opinions :)

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  10. I have made a good number of the meals in the book so far and yes, most have taken me more than 30 minutes. However, prepping and cleaning up and kind of part and parcel of my process. I tend to clean as I go so there isn't a big disaster at the end. If I were to prep things first and just time the cooking, I might be able to do it. But to me, that isn't the point of the book really. It's about cooking from scratch on nights when you think you don't have time - yes, you actually do. :)

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  11. Hi luckiest1: you're totally right, there's always time to knock up a quick but really tasty meal :)

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