Jamie Oliver gets right to the heart of Italian cuisine in his new eight-part series Jamie Cooks Italy. Here, he tells us what's in store - and reveals the game changing item you need for your kitchen...
Jamie Oliver on his joy at bringing us the delights of Italian cuisine in his new series...
As soon as TV Times arrives at Jamie Oliver HQ in North London, there’s no mistaking where we are.
As we wait for the man himself, we notice Jamie’s best-selling cookbooks Quick & Easy Food and 15 Minute Meals dotted all around his "rustic-looking" offices alongside samples of the many Jamie Oliver-branded goods that have helped him amass his £240 million fortune.
Oh, and there are plates piled high with tantalising-looking food everywhere, all ready to be sampled by some lucky taste-testers.
Since bursting onto our screens as TV’s The Naked Chef in 1999, Jamie has achieved more than he himself thought possible. Along the way, he’s never lost his love of cooking and he’s somewhat going back to his roots with his latest TV series, Jamie Cooks Italy, starting on C4 tonight.
The eight-part series sees Jamie and his friend and mentor Gennaro Contaldo touring across Italy on a moped, getting right to the heart of Italian cuisine. Along the way, the pair meets some colourful characters – the Nonnas (grandmothers) and home cooks who’ve perfected recipes that have been lovingly handed down over generations.
As TV Times sits down with Jamie, 43, his enthusiasm for Italian food is obvious, so we can’t wait to find out more…
Why did you want to make this show? And how does it compare to your Quick & Easy TV series?
Jamie Oliver: "This was a complicated show to make and book to write – it took two years –but it was an absolute labour of love. It’s the complete antithesis of Quick & Easy Food, which focuses on the business of cooking and was beautiful in its simplicity. But, for this series, I was trying to capture a little bit of heart and soul. It’s more of a travelogue and I take my mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, on the journey with me. This show went well over-budget but it deserves it!"
What are your top tips for people who want to cook tasty Italian food at home?
JO: "Get a pasta-making machine. They cost about £35 but you’ll have it for the rest of your life. It’s an amazing thing to master and a complete game-changer. For pizzas, invest in a mezzaluna [a curved blade with a wooden handle on each end], which really makes cutting easier. Also, buy decent olive oil – it may cost over £10 but, with these things, you really get what you pay for. Don’t cook with it, though, just use it for drizzling over steaks and salads. Oh, and buy blocks of parmesan cheese – not the pre-grated stuff that’s got ‘that’ smell!"
Why do you love Italian food so much?
JO: "Generally, I think everyone likes Italian food. It has simplicity at its heart and is really inclusive; we all relate to it. I was trained in quite regimental French cooking but Italian cooking is more about flavour and ingredients and my first bosses Gennaro and Antonio Carluccio really taught me the difference between being a cook and being a chef. So part of my doing this journey was to learn how to ‘un-chef’. We meet some wonderful Nonnas throughout this series – these women don’t chop like chefs but their food tastes better."
In the first episode, you and Gennaro travel to Salina, one of Italy’s Aeolian Islands, where you meet two formidable ladies: Nonna Franchina and Nonna Marina...
JO: "Many of these Nonnas are now in their Nineties but they were cooking for the whole family from the age of seven, which is a huge responsibility. And it didn’t just have to be a meal that tasted nice – often it was for life or death nourishment. This is the last generation of Nonna that didn’t grow up with cars, gas and electric; they had to be resourceful and not waste anything. It was a pleasure cooking with these women, learning from them and hearing their stories. I had little platonic romances with them all in a funny sort of way!"
Throughout the series, you visit places like Tuscany in the autumn and Rome in the winter. When it comes to food, what’s significant about visiting different regions of Italy at different times of year?
JO: "Well, take Tuscany for example. If you go to Tuscany in autumn you’ll get the new season’s olive oil, chestnuts and wild boar, which is great. But if you go back in the summer you’ll get something completely different. It’s quite nice to go to places you love out of season. And one of the joys of filming this series in Italy over two years was that I had two 'goes' at spring and summer!"
Like the Nonnas you’ve met on this journey, do you think you’ll still be cooking in your Nineties?
JO: "I hope so! I’d say I am pretty bothered about getting older, though. I foresee quite a challenging 12 years ahead of me – after that I’m going to be properly old but I’m planning to really try and enjoy it. When I left college at 18, my dream was to have a little 30-cover restaurant, so my goal is to retire and just run that. If the only thing you have to worry about when you wake up in the morning is what to cook for lunch, I’d say that’s pretty cool."
Could you have believed you’d be where you are now when you were younger?
JO: "Not at all. I was the dyslexic kid who did really badly at school. I never thought I’d write ONE book, so to now be the best-selling cookery writer on the planet is a pretty mega thing and is even more significant because of my past. We were holding a launch party last year and, for a giggle, I asked if we could get my special needs teacher to come along. To my surprise, Mrs Murphy turned up and said she was so proud of me. It was an amazing feeling."
Jamie Cooks Italy starts on Monday August 13 at 8pm on Channel 4.
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