Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Thank You For Being A Friend - The Naked Chef Appreciation Post

Travelled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say
Thank you for being a friend
[Theme song from 'The Golden Girls']

Image by cumberbuddy

Ladies and gents - that's how I feel about Jamie Oliver.  Or more specifically, that's how I feel about his first cookbook 'The Naked Chef', which I bought (wait a sec while I fire up the wayback machine) in 1999.
It's heart was true, it was indeed a pal and a confidant.  It taught me to make stock, use an oven for more than box-mix cakes and that fresh herbs had no substitute.

I firmly believe that the popularity of The Naked Chef (the show and the book) was the reason why fresh basil  and other herbs have become supermarket staples.  The start of the Noughties was grand - no Y2K, living out of home, regular shagging and no more trekking to the Asian grocer for good coriander.  And no, it's not bloody cilantro or Chinese parsley it's coriander, dammit.

Frankly dear reader, I wasn't born knowing the difference between a brunoise and a chiffonade and there was no incentive to care - let's just say my family used to have the sort of money (as in once-upon-a-time, as in no, we don't any more) which facilitated other people cooking for you.
Then along came a foppish blonde boy on the television, who seemed to really like food and cooking for people.  He spoke to you like a friend, chatting simply about how to make a nice salad and why roasting a chicken and sharing it was a good thing to do.  The format of the show was brilliantly casual.  Jamie cooks for his old band, his boss, his girlfriend.  Jamie cooking with other young cheffy pals (friends in the kitchen doing kitchen-y things!) , even for his own birthday.  The laissez-faire friendliness of it all was gobsmacking.

On the other side of the screen, I slowly found myself considering... possibilities.  Suddenly, the 'whys' turned into 'why nots' and next thing you know I was making pastry, shoving lemons into chickens and buying different tomatoes.  I was cooking proper meals and enjoying them with people I liked.

It was lovely.

God, I could yak on about Jamie for hours.  He was so necessary at the time.  He's certainly had his critics and has been accused of many things, including starting the craze for 'celebrity' chefs.
However, I argue that he wouldn't be a celebrity if he didn't start out as a fairly pleasant and approachable fellow who knew how to cook.  In retrospect, the tone of The Naked Chef cookbook was a studious exercise in hand-holding.  His 'Basic Bread Recipe' states:

The important thing is not to lose your confidence now; if you don't think it's proved enough, leave it a bit longer and check the warmth for any draughts.
Stage 9. Now it's time to cook your loaf.  After all your hard work, don't spoil your efforts.  You want to keep the air inside the loaf, so don't knock it, put it very gently in the oven and don't slam the door.  Bake according to the recipe time and temperature in the variations which follow, or until it's cooked.  You can tell if it's cooked by tapping it's bottom (if it's in a tin you'll have to take it out) - if it sounds hollow it's cooked, it it doesn't then pop it back in for a little longer.
Stage 10. Place the bread on a rack to cool - for cooking time see each recipe variation.  You're going to love this bread!

To pull this off without condescension was remarkable.

You know, this was supposed to be a post about pastry and having a Super Awesome Pastry Day With Ninja Catching Powers (all will be revealed) with my good rockin' buddy Tessa (hi Tess!).
Instead, it's turned into a huge Jamie Oliver Appreciation Post - because his Short Crust Sweet Pastry recipe is what we used and it's a reminder that The Naked Chef cookbook and I have been through a lot together.

First chef's knife, first quality set of pots, first time making pasta.  First car, first serious boyfriend, first time signing a lease.  The car has been upgraded (twice), the boyfriend is long gone (upgraded too) and I've moved houses plenty since then.  But I've still got the knife and the pots.  I still know what to do with a pasta machine.  Most importantly, I've still got 'The Naked Chef.'

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