As I was reaching my 1000 words at the end of my review of Jamie Oliver's first book, `The Naked Chef', I had an epithany revealing that Oliver's writing is about an entire culinary lifestyle. While he professes simplicity with recipes which can be easily made at home, he does not sideline some seemingly daunting cooking tasks such as bread baking, pasta making, stock making and risotto dishes. Rather, he is enthusiasticly inviting us amateurs to enter unafraid into some of cooking's most satisfying challenges. In this what, his first two books go beyond the very useful Rachael Ray quick cooking techniques and they also go beyond the lineup of simple restaurant recipes presented in the superb River Café books from Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers. Our Jamie writes and lives the kind of enthusiasm for tasty home cooking from English, Mediterranean, and Oriental flavors which other culinary luminaries simply act out with less than convincing enthusiasm. I am even more convinced that like Robin Williams, and unlike other TV culinary personalities, Oliver is a genuine force of nature in embodying a love of cooking and talking about cooking.
This book, `The Naked Chef Takes Off' is described as being directed at American readers; however, I see few differences in style between this and his first book. The major additions are chapters on growing herbs in the city, breakfast dishes, tapas and other snacks, bevvies (mixed drinks, bevereges for us Yanks), and stocks. These chapters have less value as thorough discussions of their subject than they do to spread Sir Jamie's enthusiasm to new subjects. As light as it is, his chapter on growing herbs was helpful in pointing out which ones do best outside. I would have saved myself a growing season of disappointment if I had known that basil does not do well outside in the sun, and parsley does. The breakfast dishes are mostly good English fare with an expert chef's special touch. The tapas chapter will not add much to your knowledge if you already have a book on the subject, but if these are new to you, you will be impressed by how simple a great many Mediterranean munchies recipes can be. The chapter on mixed drinks offers some interesting information on some classic Brit potables, but a Mr. Boston book of mixed drinks will be a better reference. The chapter on stocks should convince you that these can be easy. But, if you are a total newbie to stockmaking, please read an authoritative discussion in something like `The Joy of Cooking', a CIA text, or Judy Rodgers' `Zuni Café' book. It is easy if you do it right, but there are pitfalls if you are not careful.
The heart of this book simply expands the range of recipes we got from the first book with no hint of feeling that we are getting leftovers, as I often sense in second books from other culinary celebs like Ina Garten and Paula Deen. All of Oliver's recipes sparkle with the kind of freshness I got from the first book. He does expand his range of ingredients by bringing in Middle Eastern flavors and Oriental flavors with ingredients such as lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves. I always get a sinking feeling when I see Kaffir lime leaves in a recipe as even my favorite megamart has yet to carry these.
Like the River Café cookbooks, the stars of Oliver's books are the salads and pasta dishes. Being a simple tomato sauce and spaghetti eater for all my life, the pasta recipes in these books are a revelation for both their variety and simplicity. Why would anyone bother with a jar with Emeril or Paul Newman on the label when you can whip together a dressing with parsley, olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil in less time than it takes to retrieve that jar and check out it's expiration date. Second in line for me are Jamie's fish and shellfish dishes. As the variety of tastes at the fish counter greatly outweighs the tastes of beef, lamb, and pork, I love new fish recipes, and Jamie has them aplenty. Especially interesting is his take on Shephard's pie replacing the grass eater flesh with cod. Many of the dishes include Oriental flavors such as ginger and coconut milk. Some may go a bit too far, as not all of us live in London or New York City where there is a vendor of banana leafs just down the block. I am tickled to see Jamie use things like horseradish, as this is both a very familiar flavor which simply does not find itself into dishes outside central European Slavic and Yiddish cuisines.
The chapter on meats introduces several recipes for carpaccio of beef which, by the very nature of this Italian technique is very fast and very flavorful. While the classic carpaccio is as uncooked as a sashimi or a tartare, Sir Jamie gives us recipes which put a touch of sear on the meat, just enough to please the American who likes their beef bloody, but not raw. Add the recipe for the roasted fillet of beef wrapped in prosciutto and we have several recipes for high class entertaining. While chuck and oxtails and flank steak may be great economy dishes, you don't want to serve these to your boss or a prospective client. And, you can drop the fact that these dishes were served to Tony Blair, or near enough to fib.
I am a great fan of Jamie Oliver and I become a greater fan of his cooking with each of his books I review. Like so many other recipes based on natural, elemental ingredients, Jamie's recipes require a fair amount of kitchen experience, so follow his instructions very carefully. He doesn't leave anything out, but he doesn't give many warnings of pitfalls either.
Very highly recommended for both simplicity and variety of dishes.