Jamie Does...Spain, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Greece and France

Easy twists on classic dishes inspired by my travels

By Robyn Lewis
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Jamie Oliver - Jamie Does...

Jamie Oliver - Jamie Does... [©Penguin Books Australia]

 

Which comes first, the TV series, the website or the book? In this case it’s the book, Jamie Does… which hit Australian shelves a few months ahead of the TV series that screened from late August, or in July in the UK (in prime time slot of Sunday at 8pm).

I saw lots of copies optimistically piled in bookstores. But maybe it’s taken the in-your-faceness of Jamie Oliver live on the screen to bring the book to life. If this guy can knock off Attenborough hour, then he’s obviously got a lot of followers.

And follow him we will, on his short EasyJet-inspired breaks from the UK to Marrakesh, Athens, Venice, Stockholm, Andalucia and the French Pyrenees. The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer, conjuring up a shallow dip into all these cultures and cuisines, but instead Jamie focuses on one city or region in each, and explores it in some depth, with the infectious wonder of a child.

My first (somewhat cynical) thought was hey, what fantastic tax deductible holidays! But seeing the passion in his face and hearing him speak during his first time in Marrakesh, his excitement really shines through, as does his child-like curiosity and lack of apparent arrogance – surely two of Jamie’s great charms. Celebrity he may be, but he doesn’t give the impression of having let it go to his head, and when the souk cooks laugh at his ignorance of local ingredients, he laughs with him.

In Marrakech, Jamie and his film crew explore the city and sample its extraordinary cuisine born of the French, Arab and Berber cultures. In the alleyways of the old Medina and the cafes of the wildly exotic Dja El Fna square he dodges snake charmers and tooth sellers to try out the street food of the city: slow-roasted lamb in cumin, prune and beef tagines, almond and rose water cakes.

He samples cow’s udder without wincing, visits a communal bread oven where kids drop off bread on their way to school and makes a 'portable' tangia – nomad's stew – on the hoof, slow roasting it in the fires heating the hammam baths.

Then, back home – and where Jamie Does… comes into its own – he adapts what he has seen and tasted to the Western kitchen, turning these labour-intensive, centuries-old recipes (many of which are not written down) into something you or I can recreate, without benefit of communal ovens, decades of inherited wisdom or someone to watch it doesn’t burn while we’re at work or play.

As he says proudly of his Mechoui Lamb, ‘I’m not sure what the mechoui man I met in the market of Marrakesh would make of it, but I like to think I’m respecting he way he cooks, by using local ingredients, and linking it back with touches like the carrot and orange salad.’ Jamie’s style is big flavours and simple techniques, not ‘cheffy’, and it suits these rustic dishes.

His microsite of the book and TV series www.jamieoliver.com/jamie-does is somewhat like the jumble of Moroccan food stalls he encountered, but if you can navigate around the cul-de-sacs to ‘buy a signed book’ or inadvertently find yourself back at his main website (almost unavoidable; open both in different windows and you’ll have a better chance of not losing your way), you’ll find the addresses of where he went, and his recommendations of places to eat and drink, to shop, do and see, and even a couple of chic places to stay. Pure gold for the proprietors, and surely the way to plan a short foodie break if, unlike Samuel Johnson, you ever tire of London.

In Spain, ‘I decided to spend most of my time in Spain finding out what the mountains of Andalucia had to offer. I headed north from Málaga to the beautiful old town of Ronda, birthplace of modern bullfighting and home to the Puente Nuevo, the jaw-dropping bridge that joins the mountains on either side of the El Tajo gorge.

It's a spectacular place and turned out to be a great base for travelling around the smaller villages and towns of the area. The main drag in Ronda, along Calle Jerez, is full of stand-up cafes, tapas bars, and stores selling cool cookware, food and tourist goods.’

Unfortunately if you don’t live in the UK you can't watch the TV episodes online, so if you have better things to do in Australia than to watch TV on a Friday night, you’ll have to make do with the fabulous scenic stills. Head back to the book to find his interpretation of a village-sized paella, pescado baked in salt, an array of tempting tapas, olive oil biscuits – his recipe selection is eclectic, like even seasoned traveller’s souvenirs.

On the microsite you’ll also find his take on Moorish pork chops, which might be a religious contradiction but looks so delicious you can almost taste it.

And so to Stockholm, one of my own favourite cities in Europe, even though you might need a small mortgage to stay for long: ‘a beautiful city to look at, … clean, really organized, funky and stylish. The people are gorgeous and really know how to enjoy life. With its great food markets, fairs, shops, restaurants and waterfront you'll never be short of things to do there.’

Jamie was blown away by everything from the breads to the hot chocolate, visiting markets and Rosendals Trädgard, a free public garden that's geared towards introducing the public to a biodynamic way of growing.

His very easy creamy ‘mushroom’ starter (actually chanterelles, very hard to find in Australia, but you can adapt other interesting fungi) is on the microsite – or his main website, I’m lost again – but the book has lots of Scandinavian seafood and other recipes including a beetroot gravadlax I can't wait to try. Lots of dill, sour cream, fish, but in new ways – like that of Denmark, Stockholm’s cuisine might be about to zoom out from under the radar.

And on through Venice – a(nother) fish lover’s paradise – Athens (wicked souvlakis, salads, and yes, more fish) and lastly to the French Pyrenees. I can’t say that dressing Jamie in the garb of a monk of the Brotherhood of the Croustilot looks very convincing (the expression on his face says it all), but they are named for the fantastic artisan bread they have been baking for centuries, and their experience counterpoints this little bit of theatre.

‘This is peasant country where, although the people are not wealthy, they eat like kings. The food here is rich and fatty, yet they have the highest life-expectancy in France. Jamie goes truffle-hunting with a pig and boar hunting with dogs. He is knighted into an order of serious bread makers and makes sausages with a professional. He cooks Rustic Roquefort salad, Fresh truffle Omelette, Classic Tarte Tatin, Old school Confit of Duck, and makes a Country style Terrine.’ The Savoury Chestnut Crepes are particularly good.

One cute little touch of Jamie Does… is the numbering of each country’s section in the local language, right down to the script. The photos by David ‘Lord’ Loftus are a visual treat too; he’s been shooting with Jamie for over twelve years and they hope to be doing so ‘until we’re hobbling around on our Zimmer frames’.

I have to confess I had become a bit of a Jamie sceptic until recently (indeed, until the Food Revolution, and now this book). Anthony Bourdain recently described him as a hero. ‘Before you spit up in your gnocchi, let me explain. I hated The Naked Chef too. All that matey, mockney bullshit. And the Sainsbury’s business… and the band… and the scooter… – all that shit that made Jamie a star.’

The scooter is still with us, right on the front cover, but hey, it’s an environmentally friendly means of travel (and you sure can't get cars into old Marrakesh). Jamie is now putting his money where his mouth is, embarrassing governments with the Food Revolution by literally showing them the garbage that is being fed to children in school canteens, and is beginning to make a difference. Globally.

Bourdain again: ‘That kind of talk will eventually make you unpopular. It’s very rarely a good career move to have a conscience. Most chefs I know, were they where Jamie is on the Success-O-Meter, they’d be holed up in a Four Seasons somewhere, shades drawn, watching four tranny hookers snort cocaine off each other’. (Yes, I know you are over 18 or you would not be on a wine travel website, would you?).

Other people agree. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV series recently won an Emmy Award in LA for Outstanding Reality Program (for which there must have been enormous competition) and over 650,000 people have signed his petition calling for healthier school meals.

Jamie Does… is not about the pointy end of this revolution, but about the real joys of culinary travel, where the love of food and life blossoms – going somewhere different for a while, immersing yourself in a region or a city, getting right into its food, its wine, its culture, meeting and enjoying the people, learning from and respecting them and their traditions.

What more could you want than to be (in this book’s case) on Europe’s doorstep?

And when you return, or if you never left, you can bring it all to life with Jamie Does… If you’re in Australia, stay home or record an episode one Friday night to see for yourself. You’ll be cooking up a storm all weekend, and your copy of Jamie Does… will be thumbed though and used long after the TV show is over and the website moves on.

 

Jamie Does…Spain, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Greece and France is published by the Penguin Group (UK, 2010; hc 360 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$60.

 

Members and subscribers of VisitVineyards.com or WinePros Archive can purchase Jamie Does, Kitchen Revolution or nearly 30 other Jamie Oliver titles at 12.5% discount here from our book partners Seekbooks (postage extra).

 

Jamie Does… Spain, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Greece and France can also be purchased from Amazon.com here:

 

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September 03rd, 2010
 
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