Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A double dose of Jamie

I spent a slightly bemused hour in front of my telly last night watching Jamie Oliver's new show, Jamie's American Road Trip. Now, I'm not one to bash the guy simply because he's on TV. He's inoffensive enough most of the time, I quite enjoyed the school dinner thing and I even rate some of the cookbooks. The issue I have is that there's just too much of him, he occupies too much space. Yes, he's been piling on the pounds but this is something else. Everything Jamie Oliver does is packed to  the gills with, well, Jamie Oliver. His cookbooks are so full of pictures of him that Jamie's Italy resembles some horrid niche gay porn mag for people who like tubby cockneys and tomato sauce. The food is always second billing to Jamie's thick tongued grimace.

Take last nights programme; Jamie hangs out in the "Mexican enclave" of San Pedro in Los Angeles  He's in search of Mexican food. Given that the border isn't that far you'd figure he could catch a flight, but he's after the authentic foods of the whole of Mexico so maybe we can cut him some slack as there's less ground to cover. Maybe.

So, what does Jamie do, given he has unfettered access to the best Mexican cuisine has to offer? He hangs out with and patronises some former gangsters, who have a glassy eyed "I'm on TV, but I don't understand a word this maricon is saying" expression throughout most of the show. I felt for them, there's probably nothing in their former lives of crime; not the drugs, the violence, the deaths of family and friends that prepared them for this lisping cockney caricature intruding on their grief and their kitchens. It's like he'd seen a few Louis Theroux documentaries and decided "I'll do that and cadge a few recipes at the same time". Unfortunately, Jamie lacks Louis's empathy and curiosity and his own gargantuan self regard gets in the way. Virtually every recipe is Jamie's take on something. He's surrounded by people who know this food and culture intimately but decides, fuck it, I'll have a bash and then spout off about how he's just like them because he loves his family too.

Two comedy moments stood out. Jamie speaking Italian to a group of confused Hispanic ladies at a cactus farm because I can only guess he figures, "well, it's all the same innit!?" and the scene of him being fed mescal and getting a bit trippy. It was obviously a set up and I doubt he got more than a mild buzz but  I'd have actually loved to see him totally lose it and go on a drug fuelled cockney rampage.

As for the double dose, I ended up in Jamie's Italian in Canary Wharf on Sunday for reasons that I won't go into. It's the third time I've been to one, having visited the Bath and Brighton branches and I have to say I actually quite enjoyed those two visits. There were nice enough spaces, the food was okay and the bill a fair reflection on the whole experience. It was pleasantly,  "...meh".

However, there's something rotten in the state of Jamie. The one defining characteristic of all three restaurants, the one thing they all shared was anger. There's no way to reserve a table, so the front desk is a scrum of people trying to cajole, bully or insinuate their way in. They get angry. Really angry. Way angrier than I've seen at any other restaurant with a similar system for getting a table. The line at Wahaca is a jolly affair by comparison and people seem genuinely content to get a few mojitos down before the little buzzy thing vibrates and they can sit down. People at Jamie's Italian are pissed. In Brighton, a very large Scandanavian woman sick of standing for all of about ten minutes loudly proclaimed she would write to the man himself to complain and I think that's the crux of it. They want the man himself to show them to their table. Despite themselves, they figure Jamie owes them one for turning up. It's too personal, too much identified with him, people reckon this is a fine dining experience when it's just really a Frankie and Benny's franchise with better parmesan. Expectations are too high and so people just seem to lose it. Much how they would in Italy, I imagine, if they were ever confronted with such a restaurant. Authenticity, see?

By the way, avoid the Canary Wharf branch. It feels like a motorway service station canteen and take a deep breath before reading the menu. It makes me want to punch someone.


Lizzie said...

I agree - trying to emulate Theroux was embarrassing.

I've seen a picture of a menu at Jamie's Italian. As soon as I saw 'proper posh chips' I turned my head away with a "ugghhhh!"

Wen said...

Hilariously articulate post - captures well my conflicted feelings about the increasingly unruly Jamie empire e.g. 15 and Jamie At Home ala Arthur Potts Dawson, Roadtripping ala Anthony Bourdain and the one that really gets my goat... the JMe collection ala Martha Stewart

Kopibren introduced me to your blog. Am enjoying it and looking forward to more.

Monkey Gland said...

Lizzie: Yeah, it's pretty horrific, the foods actually OK, though.

Wen: Thanks!

Weekend Carnivore said...

I am an American but I have lived in London for over 13 years now. So, I usually watch these American adventure shows knowing they will piss me off.

I will hand it to Oliver that these are much more 'real' America than I have seen any other chef do. The one this week in New York was a more realistic New York than I have seen on UK tv pretty much ever.

That said, I totally get what you are saying about the Theroux (who I love) feel. But, with the death of Floyd, It caused me to think that I think that is more who he is trying to be like on these shows. Meet locals, do something weird and then cook for those locals.

Have you notice how little he is swearing this show vs his last one?