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Jamie Oliver « Foodie and the Everyman

Posts Tagged ‘Jamie Oliver’

Wonderous Nature

Baby Asparagus

Growing up, I didn’t have much access to gardens, other than the occasional tomato plant that my mom would keep in her front yard, desperately trying to coax a few succulent red orbs out of the tiny patch allotted on her front step.  Like me, she didn’t have much of a green thumb, so more often than not the plants ended up shrivelling and dying instead.  For years I was convinced I had a black thumb because I killed so many houseplants, but once I started vegetable gardening, I finally found my niche.

As such, I (like most young urbanites, I imagine) have very little in the way of a frame of reference when it comes to what plants should look like when they grow.  I may have laughed astonishingly when they showed those children on Jamie’s Food Revolution who didn’t know the difference between potatoes, tomatoes, etc, but it didn’t occur to me until recently how hypocritical that was.

Last year when I grew artichokes on the roof, I had no idea what the plants would look like once they flourished.  Years ago when I first started gardening I wasn’t sure what seeds were a 1:1 ratio to their edible growth, and which ones would grow into bushes.  Carrots, beets, artichokes and potatoes were all in the past planted without the knowledge of whether I was going to produce a meagre or bountiful harvest because I just didn’t understand gardening.  The moral of the story here is that everyone can be ignorant about something occasionally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re dumb.  As someone who grew up in the city, and mostly in apartments to boot, I just never had access to outdoor spaces where I would ever be exposed to living, growing things, so how could I know better?

Which is why when I decided to order asparagus crowns from Vesey’s back in January, I had no clue how many would suffice for our garden on the roof.  Compound that with the fact that I didn’t even know whether a crown would produce 1 stalk of asparagus or 20, and you’ll understand why I opted to purchase 12 crowns.  Amazing even to me, but in 29 years I had never seen a real, live asparagus plant in person before.  Of course, I’d heard all about how they grew like weeds so I was prepared for rapid shoots, yet I still didn’t expect what came next.

As you can see from the photo above, each crown is producing stalks which in turn are diverging into numerous branches.  Honestly, I never knew.  And I’d bet good money that scads of other city dwellers would feel the same way too (if they weren’t worried about how stupid they might sound, that is).

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Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children???

First off, I don’t have kids, nor do I ever want them.

In fact, if I’m to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that I generally despise the smarmy little buggers (with the exception of the kith and kin of a few friends or relatives of mine, that is).  For comfort’s sake I usually prefer to keep a fair amount of distance between me and the lot of them with their bad manners, foul mouthes, entitled attitudes, short attention spans and constant orbit of gadgets and technology (/rant).

That being said, there’s been a lot of talk about children in the media lately.  There’s plenty of discussion surrounding the obesity epidemic that’s facing their generation and how as a society we need to focus our energies to improve and shift their current fate.  Mrs. Obama has her Let’s Move initiative, Alice Waters has the Edible Schoolyard program,  and Jamie Oliver’s recent TED Prize wish was to teach every child about food.  Of course, that’s merely a sprinkling of the many projects attempting to tackle this multi-faceted problem, but these 3 just happen to be some of the most highly visible.

On the surface they all sound like rather noble causes, and certainly there is a degree of credibility behind the idea of educating children about food and exercise in order to stem the tides of an obesity related epidemic.

And anyone who has seen the promo clip of Oliver’s upcoming show (specifically the kids that don’t know the difference between potatoes and tomatoes at around 1:16 in the video) should be able to grasp the positive ramifications when kids get switched on about food.

However, the point where I often find myself flummoxed is when people start talking about banning, outlawing, taxing or restricting certain foods deemed to be “unhealthy” from school premises  in order to achieve that goal.

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Truly Outrageous

Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to watch episode 2 of Hugh’s Chicken Run, which is a BBC show that features Britain’s own Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) exposing the realities of commercial chicken production.

I intended to write about this yesterday, when I could still feel the fire of indignation in my belly, but the more retarded of our 3 cats chewed through the power cord on my laptop charger, thus leaving me without access to the interwebs.  My ranting has likely grown a little more subdued than it would have been immediately following the show, but it still raised questions nonetheless.

In the second episode, Hugh takes a group of people he’s convinced to raise chickens on a tour of a poultry-rearing facility that he’s constructed as a small-scale model of the difference between conventional and free range birds.  He fills half of the giant shed with 1,600 chicks destined to have a relatively charmed existence, while the remaining 2,400 or so( of the 4,000 birds he starts with) are crammed into the same size shelter on the other side of the barn.

The free range birds obviously have a little more space because there are less of them on their side of the shed, but they also get perks like bales of hay to roost on, balls to play with, CDs to peck at and access to the great outdoors.  What might seem like small concessions make a world of difference to these birds, as is evidenced by the flock of perky, upwardly mobile chickens pecking and scratching around.

By contrast, the conventional birds were much more cramped in their space, and had no “toys” to play with at all.  After several weeks they could barely walk, having eaten so much (during the 23 hours a day they’re encouraged to eat) that the poor birds had grown faster than their legs could support.  The carpet of bird shit was so heavy that apparently the barn stank of ammonia and many chickens were getting “hot spots” on their legs and feet (which is a pleasant way of saying they were being burned by the chemical reactions of so much shit coming into contact with their extremities).  Having so many birds confined to such a tiny area also increases the chance of illness infesting a flock, so any time a sick or slow bird was found, it had to be removed.

On top of that, Fearnley Whittingstall discusses how he has to cull many chicks because they are smaller than the rest and won’t make “market weight” at the same time.  Because this unfortunately represents no profit, they must be dispatched.  Throughout the show you can see him becoming increasingly shaken with each cull, but on the conventional side, birds are only given 5 to 6 weeks to live and one cannot risk the safety of the flock with ideals.

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There’s An App For That

Fin!

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself purchasing Michael Ruhlman‘s Ratio application from the iPhone App Store.

It’s a bit of a dirty little secret that I’ve become addicted to food and cooking apps, and I have the Epicurious, Jamie’s 20 Minute Meals, and Nat Decants apps to prove it, and now Ratio as well.

Now, I may have a fair amount of respect for the Charcuterie book (moreso for its co-author than for Ruhlman himself) but the more I see him on TV (typically on No Reservations) and with that whole “are we too stupid to cook” thing he blundered last week, the more I’ve started to view him as a pompous, self-aggrandizing ass.

But, I had bought the app for the inherent practicality of it, so I still intended to test it out.

Ratio Dough

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The Foodie 13 – All I Want For Christmas

Prezzie

Within the last week or so (or pretty much since US Thanksgiving rolled around) it seems that everyone and their dog has been compiling lists of gift ideas for the foodies in our lives.

But instead of telling you about great things to buy for everyone else, I thought I’d turn the idea on its head and do a round up of the various bits and bobs that I’m hoping to get this year.  You are welcome to provide your own gadget-y suggestions in the comments, of course.

However, before you start thinking that the publishing of this list is nothing more than a poorly veiled series of hints for the Everyman (or various other people in my life) I will assure you, it is not.  You see, I’ve made kitchen stuff off limits as a gifting inspiration for the Everyman.  A few years ago he bought me a gorgeous Peugeot red pepper mill as part of a Christmas gift (which I loved), but then for a birthday he bought me one of those ginormous chocolate fountains (which I was a little less stoked about).  To be fair, he had at one point heard me say that I wanted a chocolate fountain, but I’m very particular about the larger appliances that I allow into my kitchen, if for no other reason than the premium on our space.

Plus, to me a loved one should never give practical presents; that’s what my parents, friends and acquaintances are for.  Presents from loved ones should be frivolous extravagances that you are deserving of, but would probably never bother buying yourself, which in my case would be stuff like jewelry or spa days.  And there’s always that phantom ring that everyone’s been asking about and keeps hovering over our heads, because you know, shacking up is like so 2007… so put a ring on it already, right?

But no.

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There Go(es) My Hero(es)

I think it goes without saying that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and Mrs. Obama are some of my heroes.

I also can’t forget the guys behind King Corn, who have a new documentary coming out this winter called Truck Farm, that deals with their quest to grow a market garden in the confines of the flatbed of a pickup truck.  It’s such a stupidly funny concept that it’s got me wondering why I didn’t think of that.  But to my credit, I am growing most of my food in ugly kiddie pools.

All of these ongoing efforts to bring the campaign for healthy, local, sustainable food to North America are admirable in their dedication, and are definitely not going unnoticed.  More than ever people are taking an interest, whether by reading labels, shopping at farm stands or just growing their own food at home.  We’re witnessing a pivotal moment that could shape the way that food is mass-produced for the children of tomorrow.

However, a few recent articles have put me on to two other people whose goals I admire.  Over at NY Times, you can read about Will Allen, a former professional basketball player who is now putting his talents to use by growing crops and feeding people in urban food ghettos.  The man’s charisma literally oozes off the page, with an aw-shucks kind of quality to everything he says.  Not only is he changing the world, but he’s humble about it, too.

Building on the concept of aquaculture, there was an article about this guy in the Globe and Mail about two weeks ago.  I’m not a huge fan of most cooked fish though I adore sushi, and I would never have a use for one of these setups, but nonetheless, I think what he’s doing is amazing.  It’s that kind of fringe thinking that makes me optimistic that our global community can find a path to sustainability.

And then there’s Jamie Oliver; during the last 2 months The Food Network has been airing a whole slew of his programs geared toward food awareness.  First there was Jamie’s Ministry Of Food, which focused on teaching a town in England to cook.  It was so popular that it’s been picked up for a US version that will feature Ryan Seacrest (ugh!)  Then there was the kitschy, slightly game show-esque Jamie’s Eat To Save Your Life, in which the charming Oliver gets all bedecked in a ridiculous looking suit and perambulates around the stage, informing 18 Brits about the many ways that their terrible eating habits are quietly killing them.  Using shock and horror to poignant effect, one segment shows a woman sitting in a bathtub filled with all the fat she would consume in 5 years at the rate she was going.  The next one hour episode in the series, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners shows a room full of guests excited to have a dinner cooked by Oliver being educated on the vast differences between free range and battery farm chickens instead.  Jamie even manages to get an interview and inside look at one of these battery farmhouses, which is more than could be said for the guys behind Food Inc. It’s seriously disturbing, from the way the coops are extremely overcrowded, to the fact that most of the chickens can barely walk, right down to the end of the show where Oliver learns and demonstrates how to humanely dispatch a chicken.  It’s not something you’d necessarily want to see, but if you’re going to eat meat, you should be able to stomach how it happens.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also got an episode on pork (yet to air in Canada) cheekily named Jamie Saves Your Bacon.  I suppose if anyone can do it, Jamie probably can, although even I will admit that after a while some of the shock-rockery of his schtick gets a little bit old.

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Food As A Form Of Salvation

It seems like everywhere you look lately, food is in the mainstream media.

There are the articles about food crises, like salmonella in your spinach or listeria in your deli meat.  The provenance of our food is increasingly unknown, and it’s amazing how disconnected we are as a society and how few people actually seem to care.

And you can’t forget the stories about food security or impending scarcity, and how we’re all going to hell in a handbasket for enjoying too many hamburgers or copious amounts of factory-farmed meat.  Not to mention the hullabaloo over obesity epidemics caused by the vast quantities of processed crap that most of us have become too accustomed to swallowing, making us akin to force-fed fois gras geese.

Food’s permeated entertainment media too, with movies like No Reservations, Spanglish, Ratatouille, and the soon to be released Julie and Julia using the culinary arts as their captivating backdrop.  Not one to be left out, in recent years reality television’s also jumped on the edible bandwagon with a plethora of shows to satisfy rampant foodies, like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Chopping Block and many more (dishonorable mention goes to the crapfest that was The Restaurant – shudder!)

While I love the vast majority of content coming out of the food media menagerie, the segment I’m most keen on (and which coincidentally is growing) is that which is focused on using food as a humanitarian equalizing aid.  There’s a whole new division of people using food to teach, transform and heal, and taking the idea of food as nourishment to it’s altruistic climax.  Jamie Oliver did it when he first started Fifteen, shepherding misguided British youth to a more purposeful existence.  Jeff Henderson took a stab at it too with his rather popular Chef Jeff Project, rehabilitating young drug dealers, gang bangers and other ne’er-do-wells by mentoring them in his catering business.  And on our side of the border, Marc Thuet is currently giving ex-cons a second chance by staffing his newest venture, Conviction with them (results supposedly will air this fall).

This seeming trend is all the more reason why the appearance of this documentary warms my heart.  I empathize with those who don’t have enough; specifically people who are marginalized and made to feel like they have no other options.  That there are kindhearted individuals finding ways to use food to unite, inspire and help those who are less fortunate is truly a godsend.  For those of us who are lucky, food is something we might not think too much about, other than for brief moments leading up to it’s consumption 3 times a day.  For others, what may have once been a cause for concern or anxiety is now becoming a lifeline for making something of themselves and seizing a golden opportunity.  Food always had the power to bring people together, but now it’s on the cusp of  becoming the medium to purport positive life change.  That’s a really amazing thing to witness.

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So This Is What It Must Be Like…

Today was an interesting day.

Shitty insofar as work goes, but entertaining nonetheless.

For starters, I received my first press release as a member of the Toronto food-blogging community this afternoon.  I guess that means I am now somewhat recognized (good heavens!)  Either that, or our blog comes up in a Google search of Toronto food writers or they’ve poached the blogroll off Taste T.O. Who knows?  Whatever the case or how  inconsequential, it put a smile on my face for about 20 seconds during a catastrophically grueling day.

What I found rather droll was that the restaurant in question was none other than Marc Thuet’s new place, Conviction, which Toronto Life gave a nod to in their online blog yesterday.  I haven’t written much of consequence about Thuet since I started this blog, other than oblique references to the one visit the Everyman and I paid to Bistro Bakery Thuet (now Bite Me, oh wait, no, that’s become Conviction) back in December 2007.  Or the occasional swoon over his (really superb) artisanal bread.  Over the years I can say I’ve been a fan of some of his concepts (bistro, charcuterie, etc), but have not thought much of their executed excess.  To me, the man just doesn’t know when to hold back (the exception to the rule being those aforementioned loaves).

Which is why I found the concept of Conviction so intriguing.  At first glance it calls to mind comparisons between Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen or “Chef Jeff’s” Posh Urban Cuisine.  Even more closely, it’s the grownup equivalent of a niche restaurant I frequented in the early 2000′s on Roncesvalles called River.  The idea that salvation and reconciliation of one’s demons can be found in the kitchen is not new.  And I can’t argue that turning it into a reality show isn’t also a slight bit tacky on their part.  But it is refreshing to see that Thuet seems to have grown so much as a person as to want to give something back to the community.  As they state in the press tidbit, he’s no stranger to addiction or run ins with the law, so clearly apparent from reading any article written during the last 20 years in Toronto.  A common theme journalists tend to gravitate towards when immortalizing him in print is a portrayal of the bad boy chef.  While there’s no shortage of those in any town, the thought that one of them wants to help people find their second chance is heartwarming.  To my mind one of the first steps on the road to personal reformation is to stop being so concerned with oneself, and start thinking about how you can help everybody else.  It would appear that Marc Thuet may now have found that place in himself.  Or (as the cynic in me might think) he’s just trying to cash in on the reality TV craze.  Who can tell?  It’s possible that the motives are not entirely altruistic, but my interest has been piqued at any rate.

Perhaps even enough to break my self-imposed ban on their restaurants and see what it’s all about.

Until next time…

The Foodie 13 – TV Shows

If anyone’s been wondering, running a semi-successful food blog can be exhausting.  I have no shortage of inspiration and ideas to write about, but finding the time to get it all down on virtual paper can be a bit of a challenge.  Plus I impose deadlines on myself (like posting a new Foodie 13 every 2 weeks or so) to try and ensure I’m keeping things fresh and relevant for followers from the internest.  With that in mind, I give you our next installment of the Foodie 13

There’s nothing I love more than foodie TV.  Growing up I could sit and watch cooking shows for hours on end, always captivated and entertained by what was happening onscreen.  When the Food Network finally came to Canada, it was one of the first times I felt like there were other people out there who were just like me.  There’s something so magical (and perverse) about the seeming perfection that’s portrayed on food television that I can’t get enough of, even though like most media, it upholds an unrealistic and mostly unattainable ideal.  As an adult, I find it’s almost the only television I bother with anymore, except for the occasional movie, infomercial (for laughs) or gameshow (Supermarket Sweep anyone?).  So, in no particular order, an ode to some of my favorite TV pleasures both new and old, beloved and reviled.

1- Iron Chef (Japan) - Plenty of people hate this show and think it’s terribly gimmicky, but it’s exactly that kitschiness that I love.  From the bad dubbing and voice-overs, to the cardboard cutout-like poses of each of the chefs, it’s so over the top that you can’t look away.  A few things I especially loved about this program were the Prince of Pasta’s rising out of the floor second-rate intro, the floor reporter always calling for Fukui-san (which to this day I still think of as squeegee-san), and the papi (grandfather-like) Japanese chef Rokusaburo Michiba.  Attempting to watch the American version proves that it literally pales in comparison, and as I’ve noted before, I can’t even be bothered to watch unless Jeffrey Steingarten is on.

2- The Urban Peasant - Watching reruns of this show today is proof that the sands of time can soften memories.  When I was younger I was transfixed by James Barber drunkenly cooking up a storm, but when you revisit the show now, you realize how unappetizing and unsanitary his food and preparation are.  I liken that time in food TV to the wild west; an era where people did not know better, or necessarily realize what would make good TV.  It was definitely the polar opposite of the hyper-stylized completely pre-prepared Rachel Ray type shows we have today, and for that reason alone, it makes it on my list.  Plus, you can’t deny that he always looked like he was having a rollicking good time!

3- Good Eats - Long before Alton Brown became the affable, American version of Shinichiro Ohta, there was (and still is) Good Eats.  A show for the food geek in all of us, Alton managed to combine science, cooking and some unique comic performances into one tight and tasty package.  Always informative, the show specialized in not only teaching you the recipe, but explaining the why behind the recipe too.  I value Alton Brown’s opinion so much that when I once saw a $200 blender on one episode, I ordered it the very next day.  And while the RPM turned out to be nothing more than a flashy kitchen gadget with a tachometer, the show’s cooking advice has never steered me wrong.

4- Cook Like A Chef - I’m almost positive this show never aired outside of Canada, but I couldn’t help but include this small piece of Canadiana.  The premise behind Cook Like A Chef was a revolving cast of great Canadian chefs, showcasing their unique talents for the world to a cool, jazzy tune with lots of 360* shots.  Typically each episode consisted of 2 or 3 segments of the chefs preparing tasting portions of their signature dishes.  Notable names attached to the project included Ned Bell, Michael Bonacini and Carolyn McCann Bizjak, most of whom are probably unknown outside of the Great White North anyway.  While the show originally aired in 2001 shortly after the Food Network’s Canadian inception, it’s been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance now that the Food Network has put a greater focus on Canadian content again.

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The Foodie 13 – TV Personalities

A conversation I had with the Everyman last week inspired the topic for our second installment of The Foodie 13.

As we enjoyed a dinnertime nosh, we started talking about some of our favorite foodie TV hosts of all time.  It became apparent to me a long time ago that people’s tastes in television personalities are as varied as their tastes in clothing.  My mother, for instance, loves Martha Stewart (creepy), The Two Fat Ladies (weird and unhealthy) and Ina Garten (uber-annoying).  Then there are people who enjoy Guy Fieri (so I’m told) and Rachel Ray (I have no idea why).  One thing that the Everyman and I agreed on was how awesome it would be if they gave Ted Allen and Jeffrey Steingarten a show of their own.  It would be like a modern version of the odd couple… only foodie-focused.  It got me thinking about who would make my list of top TV personalities… so in no particular order, let’s find out, shall we?

1- James Barber - A perennial favorite in my household growing up, James Barber was a character that was easy to love.  Though it’s likely he was always pickled-drunk, he was entertaining and amusing, and had much to do with inspiring my love of cooking and food over the years.  To watch his show now is both reminiscent and horrifying; it’s a wonder that I never noticed how unsanitary cooking shows used to be back then.

2- Alton Brown - A man of many talents and one for all seasons.  Whether laughing along to bad jokes or skits on Good Eats, or being captivated by his Feasting on Asphalt (or Waves), Alton Brown is as approachable and charismatic a host as you could hope for.  He’s educational and fun, and seems like the kind of guy I’d like to talk to over a beer (if I drank beer).  I won’t comment on his appearances on Iron Chef America, because I like to pretend they didn’t happen.

3- Ted Allen - Trendy enough for the younger generation (due to his tenure on QEFTSG), but non-threatening enough that your grandmother could fall for him, Ted Allen is a lovable, foodie TV fixture.  I mourned the loss of him during season 5 of Top Chef, but was taken by his new Good-Eats-meets-Popular-Science show Food Detectives.  I hear great things about Chopped too, but have yet to see an episode here in ass-backwards Canada.  From what I’ve heard about it though, it sounds awfully similar to the show that personality #9 hosts.  Plus, he’s not nearly as creepy looking when he’s in motion! :)

4- Jeffrey Steingarten - While he has yet to be granted a show of his own, his appearances on Iron Chef America are usually the only reason I’ll tune in.  I set the Tivo to record and fast forward to 15 minutes in – the point where they introduce the guest judges.  If Jeffrey’s on, chances are I’ll continue watching.  If Jeffrey and Ted Allen are there, I can’t not watch every gory moment.  The two of them together are like a train wreck that you just can’t tear yourself away from.  Never before has a curmudgeon been quite so entertaining, though I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to become so damn famous in the first place…

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