Recently I was asked which one chef I admired the most. For someone who owns over 100 cookbooks, subscribes to about six food magazines, dreams about dinner parties and watches far too much food television, I was surprised when I initially drew a blank. But then the answer hit me. Jamie Oliver.
I know, I know. Too easy right? It would have probably sounded better if I had said Julia Child or Thomas Keller or Escoffier. I mean, those chefs were classically trained, they cooked for the love of food and not for the fame, long before the days of TV chefs and million dollar celebrity restaurant openings. I could have picked a chef like Fergus Henderson, someone who has single-handedly made nose to tail cuisine a major trend, influencing other modern chefs like Gabrielle Hamilton and Anthony Bourdain. I could have picked Delia Smith, loved by millions of Britons, a woman whose “Delia effect” could sell any new ingredient to the masses once she featured it in a recipe. But I picked Jamie.
Jamie Oliver, in all his cheeky chappy-ness, has really had a huge influence on my cooking. His rustic, chuck it all together, add-ingredients-to-taste methodology is one that I have gravitated towards. I’m not much for precision when it comes to cooking, which is why I’m not much of a baker I guess. Jamie made cooking look cool, like the best way to be cool to all your mates wasn’t to be the funniest or the smartest, but to cook up a great feast for your hungry friends on a Saturday night after the pub. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with THAT guy? And so I guess in a way I aspired to be that guy too. I started throwing dinner parties for friends, started cooking more at home for my Mom, started to really love cooking. And somehow, after all those years since the Naked Chef graced our screens and bookshelves, I am still a Jamie O kinda girl.
I won’t say that Jamie had any influence on my decision to move from Toronto to London, but boy was it amazing to spend time in the markets I saw on those early shows, buying great produce from Borough Market like him, incredible cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy, meat from those English butchers that called me love. I was in heaven.
Fast forward to today and I must admit to owning the entire Jamie library – although I haven’t kept up my subscription to the magazine and never managed to pick up many of the branded (ahem – expensive) dish ware and cookware items. Nick and I always tune into his various TV programmes and specials and usually find them thoroughly entertaining. But mostly, I am a constant admirer of his tireless campaigns to get us all cooking for ourselves, to get us all eating better – you can’t really fault a guy who could have easily sat back on his successes and not given a crap except to watch the money roll in. But Jamie keeps going. He keeps encouraging all of us.
Looking at our vast Jamie library, I thought it might be a fun experiment to try a week of his recipes, both those recipes I’d always wanted to try, and a few classic favourites too. Might as well put all those books to good use. I hereby present to you, my week with Jamie!
Monday – Pork Chops with Thyme, Lemon & Pesto and Parmesan & Truffle Mash
The Naked Chef (2000)
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start! The Naked Chef book, which accompanied the television series of the same name, was full of simple and tasty recipes that made the cookbook buying public sit up and take notice. With a mouth-watering marinade, and finished with delicious homemade pesto, this pork chop recipe quickly became a favourite in our house. We served this with another of Jamie’s recipes from this first book, Parmesan and Truffle Mash, and some simply sautéed courgettes on the side. Delish!
- 1 handful of thyme
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 clove of garlic
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 two-rib pork loin chops, or regular chops
- 1 pesto recipe (or really good store-bought)
Using a mortar and pestle pound (or very finely chop) the thyme with 1 teaspoon of salt. When pulped, add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and pound again. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and the olive oil. Smear the mixture over the chops and leave for at least 10 minutes.
Place the chops on a very hot griddle or in a hot frying pan (they make a bit of smoke, so get your fan on!). Try to get each side nicely charred and golden, but take care and don’t let them burn; if it looks as if they are getting too much colour, turn the heat down. They take about 8 minutes to cook at a medium high heat. Don’t overcook pork, it isn’t necessary and will only make the meat dry. Rest the chops for a few minutes, then spoon some pesto over them.