Let the record show that I bow to no-one in my admiration of Jamie Oliver’s good intentions. He may go at it all a bit gung-ho but his heart is essentially in the right place. But his latest book – 30 minute meals – has hit the headlines for exactly the wrong reason; cook after cook furious that the two/three course meals cannot be done in 30 minutes and in fact can take up to an hour and a half.
There are, I think, two sides to this culinary coin. On the one hand, I think that these recipes are probably do-able in 30 minutes, give or take (and I know that’s not the promise but let’s be generous). I gave the Sister a copy for her birthday and – as a competent if not adventurous cook – she found that she could do most meals in around 40-45 minutes at her own leisurely pace. The other inference here is that she is cooking from it on a regular basis, which surely indicates that the recipes themselves are tempting and inspiring. Her point was that the recipes could be completed within the allotted time if – and this is a big if – you have absolutely everything measured out, ready to go and you are confident both in your own abilities and in your kitchen and equipment. And, to be fair, having watched the accompanying TV series last year, he did start every show with that exact mandate: get everything ready beforehand – ingredients weighted out, kettle boiled, gas on, etc.
On the other hand, I have a couple of issues with St Jamie of O. Flicking through the book – of course – before handing it over, you can’t help but be slightly taken aback by the extensive equipment list detailed in order to be able to cook the recipes in 30 minutes. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but your average cook who wants to get a meal on the table in 30 minutes isn’t necessarily the same type of cook who wants to spend upwards of £300 on kitchen equipment, just to cook the recipes out of said book. A keen amateur, confident in the kitchen, who enjoys cooking as a pleasurable activity – and therefore doesn’t get het up about promises of 30 minutes, but would rather spend a leisurely hour enjoying the process – might well want to go and splash out, if they haven’t already got the equipment, but I think it’s a bit rich, in these financially stretched times, to ask people to spend a lot of money in order to create easy recipes whose USP is that they can be done quickly. Is it completely contradictory to add a coda along the lines of how long they would take using your own equipment.
The other dilemma is with the ingredients. There have been a lot of complaints that individual meals can cost upwards of £20 or £30. That’s a huge amount on one mealtime. And again, I would have thought that your average 30-minute cook wouldn’t have the time, inclination or maybe even the budget to shop so extravagantly. It’s not justifiable. I cooked the recipe for steak sandwiches with two or three accompaniments. I drew the line at spending over £3 on a jar of roasted peppers when I know I could buy a couple of peppers for mere pence, bung them in the oven at the beginning of the cooking process and hey-ho – roasted peppers are mine for a fraction of the price.
And this brings me on to the paradox of this book. I knew that I could roast the peppers myself, saving myself money and alter the cooking process to suit my own capabilities and budget. But does Jamie’s average reader necessarily have the knowledge or confidence to do the same? He enjoys huge success with those who have little confidence in the kitchen – and rightly so. His recipes are mostly (ketchup aside!) accurate, always tempting and he inspires confidence in those who might be lacking. These are all good factors. BUT, in this book he seems to miss his target somewhat. To inspire people to cook, and assure them that a multi-course meal can be on the table in only 30 minutes, is not a licence to demand they spend hundreds of pounds on equipment to do so and further needless cash on expensive ingredients simply to fit within an arbitrary time limit. It seems the ideal cook for this book would be a wealthy couple, time-poor with an expensively-fitted but under-used kitchen who want to expand their repertoire past the ping of the microwave. And how many of us does that include?