I’m a fairly good cook, if I say so myself. I do an Aubergine Bake that stops traffic, my Cauliflower Cheese is renowned in three counties (Mid Glamorgan, South Glamorgan and West Glamorgan), nobody this side of Drope can hold a candle to my Gooseberry Mousse, and you haven’t lived a full and meaningful life until you’ve sampled my Welsh Rarebit. But I’m useless with meat dishes. Although not quite vegetarian, I eat hardly any meat, meaning I never bothered to learn to cook the stuff properly. It always comes out wrong, either as boot leather, a bleeding stump or charcoal, unless I curry it to death, in which case…..oh…..ooh….wait a moment…oh no, I’m getting another one of my uncontrollable hypo episodes…I just can’t resist launching a gratuitous attack on JAMIE OLIVER!!
Yes, I’m well aware he’s loathed by Tories, and that’s normally a character reference, but remember just because the Tories hate you doesn’t mean you’re not crap (eg: Jonathan Ross, Chris Moyles, Tony Blair etc, etc). This is simply Trad Tory stupidity: to them he’s a filthy pinko hippy because he doesn’t wear a suit and tie, drops his H’s and dares to question the policy of feeding children shit for school dinner; but they shouldn’t worry, he’s no threat to their Agribusiness investment portfolios. He’s an Agribusiness himself. UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, the man who has put McDonalds, KFC, Pepsi and Unilever in charge of government food policy and whose wife is managing director of a firm that lobbies on behalf of the phamaceutical and food industries, of course finds Oliver’s ‘healthy eating’ strictures irritating: but I’m not going to let the likes of Lansley set the critical boundaries. That priceless scene when mothers shoved turkey twizzlers to their progeny through the school gates, lest they go cold turkey confronting a luvvly-jubbly Oliver plate of shredded lettuce, had me cheering the downtrodden mums for their noble defiance of being told what to do by the jumped-up millionaire. What’s not to not like? Shit, now I feel a list coming on! There’s the grating mockney mannerisms (he hails 50 miles from the sound of Bow Bells); the cooking-is-for-boys-too inverted sexism; the garbled baby-talk (I wish someone on Team Jamie would tell him that “lug” means carry or haul, not pour); the breathtakingly arrogant use of first name only in all his commercial operations as if he were up there in the Elvis or Marilyn league; the leading role in the ranks of TV chefs who have turned mere eating into food-porn for couch-potatoes, freighted with semi-mystical clap-trap and miraculous transformative powers; the insulting presumption that telling people to eat their greens is a revelation; the because-I-care front screening one more insatiable empire-builder; the twisting of eat-to-live into live-to-eat while half the world starves; hith lithp; his Lambretta (does he still do that sliding down the banisters thing?); the names he and his poor wife gave their pampered children (we know all about Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom and Buddy Bear – no prizes for sussing out which one’s the boy – because he lets the cameras into every cranny of his smug life); and most of all his lardy, ersatz-Italian “pukka tukka”, manhandled by his offputting fingers into so-what reinventions of the wheel: listen Jamie -I can call you Jamie can’t I? – I was throwing together pasta, tomatoes, basil, parmesan and rocket 20 years ago – it ain’t rocket science. With his £50 million fortune, dredged from TV cookery shows, advertising contracts, production companies, branded foods, books, cooking implements, magazines and chains of restaurants, he lives on another planet to 99.99% recurring of the human race, yet he still insists on presenting himself as homespun boy-next-door spliced with lovable Jack-the-lad, a persona that looks ever more threadbare and ridiculous as his chins multiply and he approaches his fifth decade. Have you read his recipes? They remind me of the legendary 18th century guide to making hare soup that began “first catch your hare”. In Oliver’s case, the recipes would be more helpful if they read “first purchase your Home Counties mansion then fill your vast kitchen with thousands of pounds worth of equipment and hire teams of staff to do all your dirty prep work before cooking the spaghetti according to the packet instructions…” It is a staggering fact that his 2010 book Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals was the fastest selling non-fiction work in English of all time. The very first page warns you what’s coming: a dedication to the managing director of Magimix food processors. And, lo and behold, virtually every recipe is basically a sales-pitch for hi-tech, high-cost kitchen machinery, without which that Celeriac Remoulade is impossible. Let’s get this straight: of all the non-fiction books published since Caxton invented the printing press, the most popular amounts to an extended plug for Magimix blenders! You couldn’t write this stuff! But that’s not the worst of it. Like so many of the overrated and over-indulged absurdly rich who surround themselves with hand-picked sycophants and yes-men Oliver has come to believe his own publicity and is displaying all the familiar signs of incipient megalomania: it’s not enough that he can whip up a passable salad dressing; now he’s going to Save The World too. Whether it be failing schools, youth unemployment, factory farming or US obesity, the ‘Naked Chef’ will ride to the rescue, film crew in tow, inform the mere mortals that 2+2=4, and then depart back to his Clavering estate having changed nothing but with another who-needs-it TV concept in the can. Why not make your next mercy mission the resolution of the Afghan conflict, me old china? That’s a Youtube beheading I’d make my screensaver! And then, coming closer to home, there’s his Cardiff restaurant on The Hayes, one of 26 in a chain called with characteristic immodesty Jamie’s Italian. It opened in 2009, the novelty should surely have worn off by now – yet still Cardiff’s lemmings queue outside in all weathers for the privilege of paying through the nose for a fix of overworked cholesterol. Who are these people? I’ll tell you: they’re the sub-species who would crawl over hot coals to touch the hem of “celebrity”; the clots for whom nothing is valid unless they’ve seen it on the telly; the mediocrities who get their clues to “fine dining” from the Daily Mail; the self-deluded feeble-minded snobs who believe ordering Crab & Squid Ink Risotto with Fennel and Lemon and Herby Breadcrumbs marks them as sophisticated; the, the…arrghhh…
Deep breaths…deep slow breaths…calm down…calm down…ommmmmmmm…
…and he said “that was no lady, that was my husband!” Anyhow, now where was I? Oh yes, Welsh Rarebit. It is a little known fact that there is no such English word as ‘rarebit’ (check a dictionary). The English name for the most famous of all Welsh dishes (Caws Pobi – Baked Cheese – in Welsh) was originally coined in the 18th century as ‘Welsh Rabbit’, a sadistic mocking of Welsh poverty since rabbit was the poor man’s meat in England and the Welsh couldn’t even afford that. In one of the earliest examples of ‘political correctness’ amending language, rabbit began to be corrupted to the nonsensical rarebit in the late 19th century when laughing at Welsh suffering fell out of fashion. This should not distract from the enduring wonderfulness of Caws Pobi as an all-purpose, cheap, quick, tasty meal. As I’ve more or less subsisted on cheese on toast (for that is what we are talking about) for decades, I’ve got an infallible recipe (serves 4):
250g (8oz) grated strong cheese
25g (1oz) butter
25g (1oz) flour
1 tbsp English mustard powder (the best thing to come out of England since Robert Wyatt)
150ml (¼ pint) Brains bitter
4 thick slices wholemeal bread
1) Put the cheese, butter, flour and mustard in a bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon, adding the beer slowly until it’s a thickish paste. Season.
2) Toast the bread on one side only.
3) Spread the paste over the untoasted side and brown under a hot grill.