Jamie Oliver is such a luvly bloke. Unassumin’, ‘umourous, ‘avin a bit of a laff. The fact that he can cook like a lil’ ripper is just the icin’ on the cake.
For his latest series, Oliver sets foot in the US of A, criss-crossing the nation in a bid to find real American food. No greasy fries and hot dogs here -he is determined to break the stereotypes of fast food and excess. I kinda feel he’s gonna need all the help he can get to pull it off.
In the first episode he is in New York City (well, it’s the first one in the international version). As a celebrity chef, Oliver freely admits he hasn’t eaten in New York in anything other than its finest hotels and restaurants. Lucky bugger. But this time he shuns it all to venture beyond the city’s outskirts to the burbs of this giant metropolis.
Here Oliver meets an array of colourful characters. Almost all of them are immigrants. Just as the Statue of Liberty beckons “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Oliver could well be asking “Give me your dishes, your flavours from across your boroughs.”
His first suburban meeting is a veteran Egyptian-American who serves him a delicious flatbread with onions, pepper, garlic and spices. Learning about the man behind the food is part of Oliver’s charm. He even discovers a flavour he has been searching for since he was a child. Buying a chicken from an Halal slaughterhouse seems at odds with his previous campaigning against caged chickens. Odd…
Next he travels to an illegal restaurant, run by a family from Peru in the front of their house. It feeds the locals without any endorsement from the city and the Health Department. People sit at small tables in a room that would otherwise be a living room. But for Oliver, the food is delicious. He gets a kick out of dining on the edge.
His third subject is a Colombian who was also illegal when he arrived in America years ago. Since an amnesty in the mid ’80s he has lived legally, and now feeds the homeless every night. Oliver joins in the distribution on the street getting an education from this “chicken and rice man.” We’re a long way from 5 star restaurants now.
In Queens at a house “that looks like Ugly Betty‘s” he meets two women who host an ‘anti-restaurant supper club’ -another rally against the establishment. Hosts promote their intimate events on the internet and strangers arrive for true homecooked meals. Oliver is taken by their independence and decides to host his own.
He travels to Flushing, buying products from the Chinese (and not even Chinese from Chinatown). He posts word of his anti-restaurant event online and there is no shortage of hungry guests. The episode concludes with Oliver playing host to people he has never met in a tiny inner-city house, with donations going towards the “chicken and rice man’s” food drive for the homeless.
The sum total of the episode is discovering real New York City. There are no muggings, no celebrity-watching, no Wall Street cowboys, or late-night TV hosts. The immigrants of New York add a rich colour to the city’s tapestry and Oliver as host is a genial storyteller.
While it isn’t as insightful as the recent Stephen Fry in America, it’s a good runner-up, with the cuisine giving it a tasty kick. On the back of MasterChef’s success, Oliver offers an entertaining snack.
Jamie’s American Road Trip airs 7:30pm Monday on TEN.