Sam Herlihy Of The Northwestern Defends Jamie Oliver

In this month's column, Sam Herlihy explains why the much derided TV chef should be clutched to our bosom. Photograph by Barney Britton

First off, I was planning on writing a far calmer screed than last time out. I was going to write something factual and possibly informative. Instead however, this missive is far more like a poison pen letter to a local paper. I’m not going to rant on about the complete collapse of manners and basic human decency in the youth of today though. I’m not going to witter on about the lack of Christmas lights this year in town due to council funding shortfalls. I have no axe to grind with shopping trolley thieves as ex-Wacaday presenter Tommy Boyd did in my local paper last week. I am however writing to defend everyone’s favourite chubby Essex pukka merchant Jamie Oliver.

I know the bloke has no need for some jumped up indie schmindie chubby (we’re like a club, we have to defend our own) band loser to leap to his defense. I am no Prince Valiant, no John McClane, no computer sciences geek hero in Tiananmen Square. I just watched motherfuckin’ Watchdog though, which laid in to the man, so it’s on!

I could have a dig at the bloke along with everyone else. I could throw some cheap jibes at him and giggle at how mean but witty I am. I could…so I will. Scarlet Division? Jesus, they made Razorlight sound like Tortoise jamming with Sun Ra, on ketamine. The war crimes tribunal in the Hague is after him for his championing of Toploader once they are done with that crazy monk dude and his vile antics. He is the only man north of the English Channel who still wears a trucker cap. His tracksuit top and crap jeans look is entirely lifted from the bass player in Northern Uproar in 1995. His kids have wacky names like Bob Geldof was actually the one IVF-ing his missus up to her purdey rosy cheeks. His newborn son is named after a Chesney Hawkes movie starring trout licker and curly bellower Roger Daltrey for fuck’s sake. Speaking of his missus, who to be fair seems like a genuinely lovely lady. What was with the "I pooed on my baby" revelation? Maybe it’s a brave and helpful for first time mothers admission, but no one needs to read about English roses and manure.

Finally on a purely culinary note. He puts far too much bloody lemon zest in his recipes. I’m all for a citrus zing, a bit of zesty sparkle, but I don’t enjoy puckering up like a nervous anus every time I eat a mouthful of stew. That last sentence is in no way whatsoever, prison slang.

Despite the lemon lover’s penchant for MOR, TFI Friday sound-tracking aural pillage and his new found "pukka" replacement phrase: "We are gonna start the story with some herbage", the dude can cook. His books are awesome. They might be a bit annoying with the stupid recipe titles: "Andy the Gasman’s Stew", "Best Humble Beans", and "Mind-blowing Rocket and Middle Class Snobbery Salad" et al. The photos in the early books of him high fiving ‘ard workin’ market geeeeezers, knobbing around on his shit scooter like a flabby "Quadrophenia" extra and him gazing longingly with a drugged looking half-smile at some organic turnip like a predatory prison rapist are teeth sandingly awful. But cook the stuff. If you have half a brain and opposable thumbs you can cook the food. It tastes lush as long as you cut down on the bloody lemon. He is always throwing in genuinely clever ideas. He’s like a culinary compilation of all the bits in other people’s songs I wish I had thought of first. They’re not mindblowingly left field ideas or techniques but no one else showed me how to do them first. It’s the culinary equivalent of the first time I heard someone playing actual notes on a guitar with a screwdriver instead of just Sonic Youth scree. (This has got to be the only article in existence drawing parallels between Jamie Oliver and Efrim Menuck from Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)

I cook loads of his recipes and probably unconsciously use some technique I saw on one of his shows most days. All those divvy blokes knocking up their Thai green curries, Oliver’s Army. Bored cheating housewives with rocket and bottles of knock off balsamic vinegar, Oliver’s Suburban Army. Sweating blokes trying desperately to make fresh pasta like a Sicilian grandnonna purely to impress some overweight girl from Accounts enough to sweatily waltz her up to bed, Oliver’s kidding themselves and should have some standards, she would eat a cheese rind and a packet of Frazzles, desperate to impress middle management Loser Army.

I’ve eaten in his "Jamie’s Italian" places a couple of times and never eaten badly. The truffled fries with rosemary are a wonder. It costs a couple of quid more than a chain pizza place but the standards and ingredients are way above what a cynical TV chef cash in joint should be. The only drawback is the clientele. The tightwads whining like spoilt, greedy toddlers that their salad cost them a few more quid than the salad bar at Pizza Hut are bad enough. The upper middle class snobs haw hawing that it lacks the true authentic flavours of their Tuscan villa holiday are even worse.

Moving on from the man’s gastronomic credentials, his do-gooding is obviously a concern. I understand Blighty is a cynical, selfish, piss and vinegar formed isle. Our national sport is clearly a toss up between football and success hatred. Allow me an ill fitting but illustrative digression. I just watched one of my favourite films Biggles: Adventures In Time so I’ve got World War I fighter bi-planes on my mind. If you were Biggles; why shoot a blimp? (This is not a reference to Jamie’s expanding girth). It’s an easy target. There’s no honour or fighter-ace pat on the back coming your way from Bertie, Algie and Ginger for that balloon downing. No home fires burning land girl is going to invite you into her Anderson shelter because you gunned down the biggest fucking thing in the sky. You have to go after the Red Baron. You have to take on the lords of the Luftwaffe. Von Bernard Mathews and Captain Sturmfurher Birdseye are noble targets. Jamie Oliver is a barrage balloon tethered to the ground by his seeming need to stick his oar in and help people eat better. He just floats there and has to take these potshots. If Biggles had taken the easy option, left the Red Baron alone and took on the flabby zeppelin brigade; where would we be now? The Germans would have developed their time freezing device and the Allies would have lost WWI….Watch the movie, it’s awesome, trust me.

Anyway what this means, I think is this: I know that success doesnt always have to come at the expense of basic human decency. I am not shy of hurling insults, baseless rambled theories, or jealousy primed hand grenades at those with a measure of success in their lives. I’m aboard this sinking ship of Albion too and I’m more than happy to throw the happy high achievers overboard. One less winner to compare myself unfavourably to suits me fine. But why did Jamie Oliver become such a focus of our bilious spewing rage?

He should be up to his zipped-up tracky top neck in coke and hookers. He should spend his time writing recipes for "Best Ever Speedball and Padron Tequila Soup" and "My Best Mate Gennarro’s Two Bird, One Lathe, (Spit) Roast". Instead he’s speeding around trying to stop kids eating utter swill for the sole reason that: it’s fucking bad for them. He’s teaching muggers and single brain-celled violent offenders how to chop up cavalo nero instead of one another or bystanders on buses. He’s trying to show goggled eyed ready meal addicts that cooking decent food is actually pretty simple. If I was him my show would basically consist of a straight to camera rant about how everyone who doesn’t cook is a fucking hateful, stupid and lazy waste of carbon. Go and die quickly, but painfully, of lard and additive related illnesses! The sooner you’re in the ground, the sooner you’re compost for my raddicio and runner beans to grow on! All this while holding up crudely mocked up pictures of morbidly obese dead children and hurling handfuls of couscous or rusted nails at the camera. Probably naked, but only from the waist down just to burn the image on their atrophied brains, ‘cos there’s nothing more unpleasant than a naked from the waist down man. Channel Four haven’t got back to me yet but fingers crossed, Dave: The Home Of Comedy Banter has a spot for me or maybe "Five" if not.

However, the reason I’m bowel spurting all this rage on you kindly reader, is tonight’s edition of Watchdog. Jamie has thrown an organic free range bone to the busy people of the world. "30 Minute Meals" is a show and a book in which he rustles up a three course meal in under thirty minutes. It’s aimed at all those BUSY people in this screamingly fast global bullet train economy of ours, and harrassed housewives. If you’re up to your exhausted heavy lidded eyes in emails, meetings, iPhones, Internet service providers, data, Next suits, Next trouser suits, more data, call centres, refocused aquisistions strategies or screaming, saggy nappied babies, broken Fisher Price toys, stained babyweight disguising tracksuit bottoms and snarky weed monged teenagers, Jamie has a recipe for you.

On Watchdog they smugly "tested" his book to see if the recipes could in fact work within the allotted timescale. That hag Anne Robinson and the weird, dancing BBC sports news presenter who still lives with his parents took great pleasure in sticking the boot in to Jamie’s book and TV show when the three testers completed the menus in well over an hour.

The problem was the testers. Inbreds fashioned from Spam with only the vaguest flicker of neural activity are not a valid representation of a British average citizen… surely?

They weren’t even purely culinary divs. They were a flatline of evolution, basically just redundant glands on legs. A keyring calculator from a cheap christmas cracker has more computing power than the people they chose to try the recipes out. The dishes are meant to be easy and fast but of course human beings missing even the most rudimentary ability to function at any level above pondweed are going to find it tough. They did, and so on rolled The Hag and the Dancing Parent Lover to giggle and point like kids in a playground around a fat kid skipping.

It wound me up a little. Hence this poison gargling broadside. I don’t believe we are all stupid. I don’t want to believe that anyone successful who does things for the greater good, for whatever reason, deserves a jury of idiots heaving rocks at them. At least let the attacks be funny or considered; not just The Hag’s brand of supercilious smug spite or The Great British Public’s bitter jealous lust for public failure.

Who else has green eyes? Zombies do. Are we all just additive and preservative leaking monsters? An undead nation shuffling after fresh meat? Is the good vessel Albion a ghostship? But with zombies? On a sea of pathetic resentment?

I hope not.

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