Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver uses his clout to help people eat better

I really admire the work Jamie Oliver does to help people, especially children, to eat better and more healthfully, as well as to not be intimidated by cooking and even growing food for themselves.

However, I also love many of the recipes in the British celebrity chef's cookbooks that are, shall we say, good old-fattened comfort food.

But with Jamie Oliver, you can have it both ways. Or so I've found with his cookbooks, in which the recipes can be good for you in various ways.

The international media icon is in Pittsburgh today for the One Young World Summit, which has brought 1,300 young people from around the world here to make the world a better place. Founded in London in 2009, the One Young World charity held summits in 2010 and 2011 where "delegates" were led by big-name "counselors" from a variety of fields. Afterwards, the young people go home and work on projects in their own countries.

Mr. Oliver, 37, who also was a counselor at last year's summit in Zurich, returns to work on global health for this year's summit, which he is to kick off with a press event at 10 a.m. today in the green rooftop edible garden at Phipps Conservatory in Oakland. Details were not available beforehand, but the title is "The Food Revolution Goes 360," a reference to Mr. Oliver's "Food Revolution" efforts that were an ABC TV series in 2010 and 2011. The first Emmy-winning season documented his efforts to improve school lunches in another Appalachian town, Huntington, W.Va. Then he hit Los Angeles.

Here, a news release says, "Jamie will join Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and representatives from the Pittsburgh community to announce plans for Pittsburgh to take on the Food Revolution. Jamie will inspire One Young World delegates and ambassadors as they work with community leaders to monitor and report a number of goals for Pittsburgh to become a healthier, food-conscious city over the next year."

Mr. Oliver continues his war on obesity and bad food throughout the U.S. with his California-based Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. As he notes on his website, jamieoliver.com, "Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today's children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents. It's time for change. It's time for a Food Revolution."

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed on in some capacity, including here in Pittsburgh. One place recently featured on the Food Revolution site as a school-lunch-reform leader is the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, Regent Square, which is working with Grow Pittsburgh. It's the site of one of more than 50 break-out sessions One Young World is holding around the city Saturday, "Food Revolution 101: Edible School Yard." Another food-related one will happen in East Liberty: "Conflict Kitchen: Where Art and Social Activism Meet." And after those break-outs, groups of young delegates will attend 120 "home dinners" hosted in various venues (see accompanying story).

But most of the summit will happen at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and other points Downtown. At 3 p.m. today, Mr. Oliver will join fellow One Young World counselor Bob Geldof at a press briefing at Heinz Hall to get it going, and later he'll address delegates on the issue of obesity.

If you can't see Mr. Oliver while he's here -- it doesn't look like he's making any public appearances -- he's not hard to find, with a robust presence on the Internet, on television, with restaurants as well as charities around the world, a magazine, apps, cookware and food products, plus more than a dozen cookbooks -- including 2009's "Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals" -- that have been translated into dozens of languages.

One of my favorites is his brand-new book, released in the U.S. earlier this month: "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain." It's probably my favorite cookbook of this year, and one I'll be cooking from a lot this fall.

Subtitled "130 of My Favorite British Recipes, from Comfort Food to New Classics," it's a typically first-class production, as it should be, with the number of people who worked on it. And yes, like the author himself, parts of it can come across as a bit too precious, such as some of the photos, composed as carefully as for a catalog, of Mr. Oliver's luvly four children.

But the author's enthusiasm and sincerity come through as he slam-dunks the stereotype that British food is rubbish. "British food has never been more ready, or able, to impress," he writes in the introduction. Read on and you might be ready to fly off to Britain for Bubble & Squeak and Toad in the Hole and his for-after-a-night-at-the-pubs One-Pan Breakfast, which he admits is "not the healthiest thing in the world, so you're probably best to share it with one other lucky person."

The basic recipe, Jamie style: "Just roast or grill loads of sausages, bacon and black pudding (which you can buy online), combine everything in one huge tray once cooked, crack in twelve eggs and whack it back under the grill for brilliant results."

This is, the book reminds, the kind of food Jamie grew up with, helping out his parents in The Cricketers, the pub they still run in Clavering, Essex.

The book also reminds people that British food has had a lot of outside influence, and so there's one chapter on Indian- and Jamaican-flavored "New British Classics." And he does chapters of healthful soups and salads.

Still, I was drawn towards the traditional stuff, in chapters titled "Sunday Lunch," "Pies and Puddings," and "Afternoon Tea," so much so that I actually contributed to a real afternoon tea earlier this month with colleagues, for which I made his Rainbow Jam Tarts.

The book pops in on various British food outfits, so readers can learn, for instance, about how one producer makes "Arbroath smokies" -- cold smoked haddock -- that you can use in classic Kedgeree.

Mr. Oliver does know how to work up your appetite. "It's funny," he writes about the tarts, "how simple pastry with a blob of jam can turn into something so exciting, with chewy bits, bubbling bits, crunchy bits and jammy jelly bits."

Part of his appeal to me is his bloke-next-door language and casualness in the kitchen, as when he calls for, in the tart pastry, "a little splash of milk to bring everything together, if needed," and for "a splodge of hot or cold English custard" to go with another nostalgic tea recipe I want to make: Jammy Coconut Sponge.

Perhaps the enduring appeal of Jamie Oliver is that he makes you believe you CAN do this and it will turn out good -- and often, good for you, too.

"Every time I wrote a recipe for this book, I had to restrain myself from starting each intro with the sentence, 'This dish will make you so happy,' but I swear, it's true, this is beautiful comfort food at its best -- unfussy and unpretentious, but full of life. ... I know that if you cook these recipes you will be rewarded with good times, brilliant weekends and big happy smiles all around the table ... no matter where you live."


PG tested

"I think you have to accept that sometimes in life even something humble, like a fishcake, requires effort," writes Jamie Oliver. "The reaction to these fishcakes has been amazing, and interestingly, whenever homemade fishcakes are on a restaurant menu, they always sell. The difference with making your own is that you get flavors and texture suited to your own particular tastes. So I'll happily give this recipe to you, knowing that a kid could make them ...mine have, with a little help."

These were so delicious, I can't wait to make them again.

--Bob Batz, Jr.

  • 2 leeks
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 whole nutmeg, for grating
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 8 ounces smoked salmon, smoked trout, or (even better!) a mixture of the two, roughly chopped
  • 2 lemons
  • 6 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • A few handfuls of all-purpose flour
  • 6 slices of white bread, crusts removed
  • 1 dried red chile
  • Olive oil
  • 6 rashers of quality bacon
  • Watercress, to serve

Top and tail the leeks, then peel back the tough outer green leaves. Cut them lengthways, wash under the tap and finely slice. Put them into a large pan on a medium heat with a knob of butter and a few scrapings of nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently with the lid on for about 25 minutes, or until softened, then take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.

While your leeks are cooking, peel the potatoes, halve or quarter them depending on their size, and whack them into a pan of salted boiling water for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through and mashable. Drain them, then return them to the saucepan, smash them up so the mixture is smooth but also has chunks, and put to one side to cool down a bit. Crack the eggs into a wide, shallow bowl, then carefully remove one of the yolks and stir it into the potato mixture, followed by the sweet leeks and smoked fish. Add the zest of 1 whole lemon and the juice of half, and two-thirds of the parsley. Leave to one side.

Whisk up the eggs remaining in the bowl and tip into a shallow dish. Put a few handfuls of flour on a plate. Pulse the bread and chile in a food processor with a tiny swig of olive oil until you have coarse breadcrumbs, then stir in the remaining parsley and tip the crumbs on to another plate. Divide your fishcake mix into 6 little balls. Dust each one in flour, shaking off the excess, then dip them in the egg until completely coated. Let the excess drip off, then move them to the tray of flavored breadcrumbs. Wash your hands, and spend a bit of time patting, shaping and hugging them into nice-looking patties around 3/4 inch thick. Cover and leave in the fridge until you're ready to cook them.

Preheat the oven and a large baking sheet to 425 degrees. Lay the bacon rashers out side by side on a board and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over them. Use a rolling pin or a wine bottle to roll and stretch the rashers out a little bit lengthways so they're longer and thinner (sounds cheffy, but it's dead simple). Wrap one rasher around the circumference of each fishcake and secure with a cocktail stick. Place the fishcakes on the hot baking sheet and roast in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Serve hot from the oven, with some lemony dressed watercress and a few wedges of lemon for squeezing over.

Serves 6.

-- "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" (Hyperion, Oct. 2012, $35)


PG tested

  • 2 14-ounce cans butter or lima beans
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • A knob of butter
  • White wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
  • Tabasco sauce
  • 3 1/2 ounces baby spinach, chard or shredded cabbage

Tip the beans and their juice into a pan on a medium-high heat. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pan with a knob of butter, a swig of white wine vinegar, the tomato paste and a splash or two of Tabasco. Mash a few of the beans with a potato masher or a hand blender and stir them back into the rest, to give the whole dish a lovely creaminess. Bring back to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and is tasty and delicious.

Just before you're ready to serve, throw in the greens and let them wilt down. Spinach only needs 1 minute, but if you're using chard give it 2 minutes and shredded cabbage will need around 5 minutes. Just use your instincts, then check the seasoning and serve.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side.

-- "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" (Hyperion, Oct. 2012, $35)


PG tested

For the sweet pastry

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1 large free-range egg
  • 1 orange or lemon
  • A splash of milk
For the fillings
  • 30 heaped teaspoons of your favorite jams, curds, marmalades and jellies

Put the flour, sugar and butter into a food processor with a pinch of salt and pulse until you have a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs. Crack in the egg, grate in the zest from your orange or lemon and pulse again, adding a little splash of milk to bring everything together, if needed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry so it's 1/8 inch thick. Get yourself a few 12-hole mini-muffin pans (or cook the tarts in batches) and a fluted pastry cutter just a little bigger than the holes of the tray (normally around 2 1/2 inches). Cut out rounds of pastry and gently push them into the wells so they come up the sides. Any leftover pastry can be gently pushed back into a ball and rolled out to make a few more tarts. Put 1 heaped teaspoon of filling into each jam tart, interspersing and alternating the flavors of jams, curds or jellies.

Pop the trays on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for around 12 to 15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling. Remove from the oven, leave in the tray to firm slightly, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Makes roughly 30 little tarts.

-- "Jamie Oliver's Great Britain" (Hyperion, Oct. 2012, $35)

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930; Twitter: @bobbatzjr. First Published October 18, 2012 4:00 AM


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