Britain’s favourite celebrity chef travels across the pond to find out what fuels the USA’s legendary appetite. The resulting new book, which has just arrived in Waterstone’s, contains some real, down-home American classics.
The American travelogue has become a genre all of its own, but while a succession of explorers have gone in search of the heart of the United States, Jamie Oliver seeks its stomach.
Most of us know Jamie as an opponent of fast food; he’s campaigned against school menus that consist solely of burgers, hot dogs, pizzas and chips. So what is he doing in New York, where these migrant foods went to make their fortunes? Well, sensibly, Jamie isn’t against Big American Food per se – just the neutered, characterless versions of it that we get over here. His new mission, it seems, is to show us why the food of the States came to take over the world, and to discover the dishes behind the fanfare – the real food of America.
Jamie’s Southern sausage stew
You could say that Jamie has an American streak: big-hearted and unabashed, he says what’s on his mind. In Jamie’s America, he takes a typically salt-of-the-earth approach, seeking out the people who make the food that makes America. There’s Rigo, a young Mexican chef who grew up amid the gang culture of East LA, but who made a new life for himself through cooking; Ali, who introduces Jamie to the Egyptian side of New York; and, perhaps most interesting of all, a group of Navajo, who teach Jamie to cook some of the dishes that their ancestors made before Europeans arrived. It makes fascinating reading.
America is too big for one book but Jamie takes in a big stretch, giving us an enjoyable tour of New York, Louisiana, Arizona, Los Angeles, Georgia and the Wild West. The food is often unexpected – watermelons in the desert, Egyptian stuffed flatbreads in New York, and alligator in Louisiana – but that’s not to say the classics are ignored. Jamie is the best in the business at making simple food great, and his recipes include fine versions of pork and beans, baby-back ribs, Waldorf salad – and, yes, hamburgers. Overflowing with character and superb photography, Jamie’s America is a very tasty place to be.
Published by Michael Joseph, priced £26. Recipes © Jamie Oliver, photography © David Loftus, wine suggestion from David Gleave.
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