The celebrity chef’s recipes are far from quick and easy, finds Tom Hodgkinson
Under lockdown I started doing a lot more cooking, and over the last week I’ve been the sole chef at home, as Victoria is lounging about in Umbria on an Idler retreat.
Each evening I must feed three teenagers who seem to think that they are living in Claridge’s. Their standard are ridiculously high. They will poke at their food before eating it, stare at it with apprehension, ask me what it is, and then having eaten it, or at least sampled it, give me a candid assessment of its merits or otherwise, before putting a plate in the dishwasher, considering that an enormous contribution to the whole process, and returning to their room to play a computer game.
My guide has been the omnipresent Jamie Oliver. I really like him: he’s so cheerful and the recipes work. And I feel I have an affinity for him as a German newspaper once called me the “Jamie Oliver of anti-capitalism”. Anti-capitalism has not been such a lucrative line as recipe books, TV shows and websites but I appreciated the compliment.
However, I do take issue with Jamie’s constant insistence that his recipes are quick and easy. I have found them to be the precise opposite: they’ve been very difficult, generally quite stressful and always extremely slow.
Take Jamie’s Spaghetti Bolognese. He claims it is “super easy to knock together” and takes one hour fifteen minutes. What utter nonsense. The chopping alone took nearly an hour, then it has to go on the oven for a further hour. There was his “Best veggie stir fry”. Again, he claims it is “super quick” and quotes the precise time of 35 minutes from opening the fridge to serving up. Again, what nonsense. This recipe was so complicated and stressful that I broke into a cold sweat half way through and had to sit down to compose myself. You have to toast peanuts, make rice, set the rice aside, put the rice in pan, stir in an egg and soy sauce mixture as well as peeling and trimming garlic and ginger and broccoli stalks. On and on it goes.
Then there was his “Moroccan style lamb chops”. “Cooks in 30 minutes”, claimed the website. “Difficulty: super easy”.
Again this recipe was in fact super-complicated. I had to grind fennel and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar and roast blanched almonds, just for a side dish. You must pick and finely chop coriander, shred carrots and cabbage – I mean, this is real cooking.
The upside was the meals went down very well with the imperious young sultans and, apart from the funny turn I had while cooking the veggie stir-fry, I thoroughly enjoyed the process, largely because there seemed to be plenty of gaps during which I could have a rollie in the yard and drink some Sharp’s Doom Bar.
The words “quick” and “easy” are clearly brilliant marketing tools. You see them everywhere. Now, the great chef Rowley Leigh recently produced a book called A Long And Messy Business which attempted to tell the truth about cooking: it takes two hours to make a proper meal and there is a lot of mess. It is a brilliant book but has not sold like Jamie’s, I guess because people do not want to hear the truth.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
Wonderfully funny. And absolutely true. Like people who live in Norfolk and say it’s only 1 1/4 hours from King’s Cross. It’s fucking FOUR AND A HALF HOURS, you bastards.
– John Lloyd
My advice regarding the sultans is to set them up against each other in a week long cooking competition and see how they feel after that. Everyone will write comments and put these slips of paper into a bag to be read put anonymously at the end of the week with marks out of ten to see who wins. Revenge is best served on a tasty plate cooked by child labour.
– Emma Clarke
You need an upgrade: try Pino Luongo’s A Tuscan in the Kitchen. Here is his introduction to making risotto.
– David Mayhew