One of my students, Roland, tells me that he ate on Wednesday night at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in Cambridge, and that it wasn’t at all bad. I’m glad to hear it.
For those who do not know who Jamie Oliver is (can there be anyone?) this is him showing you how to make a Bloody Mary with bacon and barbecue sauce.
Oliver is a celebrity chef. I sometimes think it would have nonplussed George III to think that the most famous men in his kingdom were his gardener and his cook (notwithstanding the fact of Lancelot “Capability” Brown), but this is how it has fallen out. We are mad about our celebrity chefs (and just a little bit less mad about our celebrity gardeners, although see here). When Oliver was about to open his Cambridge restaurant, I saw him walking up Trinity Street with his children (I suppose they were his), one on his shoulders, and there was a somewhat awed but very polite ripple following in his wake. No one actually touched the hem of his garment that I saw, but it wouldn’t have been entirely surprising.
Sad then, or apt, that another of the most revered lifestyle and cookery gurus, Nigella Lawson, has been enjoying a hair-raising fall from grace. Following her public falling out with her multimillionaire husband, Charles Saatchi, her name is now being dragged backwards through a hedge, in the trial of two of her former servants (can we still use that word?). There are rumours of narcotic substances as opulent, rich and various as her hors d’oeuvre. No wonder, if it’s all true, that she felt the need to raid her fridge in the middle of the night.
It is curious that, in spite of our obsession with cookery programmes and their hosts, we make very little actual food. A recent poll suggests that we tend to survive on a half-dozen meals, which we cycle though, regardless of how much aspirational TV cookery we consume. Or perhaps these stories of Nigella’s peccadilloes provides part of an answer: we seek stimulation, not instruction. Cooking is hard work. Much easier to sit and watch someone else do it, enjoy watching Jamie drink his Bloody Mary or Nigella scoff chocolate stuff, while we sit and eat cornflakes like everyone else.