the return of the naked chef
by jamie oliverHe's back. Can anyone remember why they called Jamie Oliver the Naked Chef first time round? No matter. The Return of the Naked Chef is a quite brilliant collection of smart-casual food, simple, sexy, sophisticated, sharp as a tack and bang up to the moment. Oliver (or his editors, stylists, whoever) certainly has his finger on the pulse: there isn't a duff recipe in the book. This is food designed to be cooked in the home, but informed by the professional skills and commercial instincts of a working chef.
So what do we get? First off, ingredient perfect pitch. Seared scallops, grilled squid, baked beetroot and squash, roast Jerusalem artichokes, braised lamb shanks, crispy sea bass, carpaccio of beef, pancetta, lots of herbs, goats' cheese, Asian influences--all exactly what everybody seems to want to cook at the moment. There isn't perhaps anything blindingly original in his recipes, but the combinations are nudged this way and that to maximum effect: "Potato and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Thyme, Mascarpone and Hazelnuts", "Risotto of Radicchio, Smoky Bacon, Rosemary and Red Wine", "Braised Pigeon Breasts with Peas, Lettuce and Spring Onions", "Orange and Polenta Biscuits" give something of the flavour of the style. It's modern, fresh and not in any way intimidating. On the minor matter of personal appeal, where Oliver really scores is the intriguing contrast (the "tension", as literary critics would say) between the skilled and imaginative professional on the one hand, and the laddish Essex boy on the other, who always manages to look as if he's just crawled from under a companionable duvet. This book will scarcely need recommending, but it is a highly appealing and skilful package. --Robin Davidson
posted 02 Mar 2006 at 17:47:01