Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club
This year is the 20th anniversary of Jamie Oliver bursting into the nation’s culinary consciousness—making this surely exactly the right time for the Cookbook Club to take a look back at his very first cookbook, The Naked Chef.
In those 20 years, Jamie has gone from cheeky chappy boy-chef to a campaigner striving to make sure we all get the opportunity to eat as well as possible. But first and foremost, the question on the kitchen table was this: how well has The Naked Chef aged?
The answer? Resoundingly that the recipes are as fitting today as ever. The feeling was that 20 years ago Jamie was introducing home cooks to new ingredients and ideas. The tattered copy I brought along belongs to my husband and was bought when The Naked Chef first came out. He used it to pretty much learn to cook from and several of our members felt the same. Now, the national ‘we’ are—hopefully—more confident cooks generally and more familiar with some of the styles of food Jamie was trying then to encourage.
Thyme, sage and lemon
Dishes included dry-grilled chicken with ginger, Chinese greens and noodles in a herb broth; tray-baked salmon with olives, green beans, anchovies and tomatoes, which I already know a few members have been inspired to make since our event; pot-roasted rabbit with rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon was a triumph; and we even had some very fabulous homemade ravioli with prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. It was the Cookbook Club’s first pasta, in fact, and I rather love that it was Jamie Oliver who made it happen.
So much lovely food. And interestingly, the discussion at these events was far less about the twists and turns of the recipes and their effectiveness or not than it is usually. The recipes just worked. We did talk about how it is at the more accessible end of cookbooks—and I rather hope if Jamie Oliver were reading this he’d say “yes, that’s the point”.
Desserts get less focus in the book. Several tarts, all fabulous, were brought along. An Australian member made her very first fruit crumble thanks to Jamie (well, and the Cookbook Club) and it was a big success. Hazelnut semi-freddo was beyond sensational.
The legend of Jamie
It would be wrong, though, not to mention just how much the ‘legend’ of Jamie was discussed over our two events; his prolific TV series and cookbooks, restaurants, ingredient tie-ins and campaigning. Again, I don’t think Jamie would be surprised to hear we had a wide range of views. Our members included fans and sceptics and everything in between. But I guess you don’t put your head above the parapet to the extent Jamie has, and for long as he has, and not expect a few shots across it.
On the food and recipes, we were in agreement: delicious, achievable, and a book as worthy of a place in the home kitchen now as it ever was.