After making the Carrot Caponata a couple of nights ago from the book accompanying Jamie Oliver’s new TV series, Jamie Cooks Italy, it was fairly inevitable that I would be sitting in front of my TV at 8.30pm last night, tuned into Channel 4, ready to watch the first episode. I was very enthusiastic about the book; would I be as enthusiastic about the actual TV series?
Well, yes, I enjoyed it but it’s a pretty lightweight affair compared to the book, which is full of wonderful recipes with gorgeous photos and a cheerful text. I watch a lot of food programmes on TV – unsurprisingly! – and I felt a bit short changed. This is the problem with commercial TV – the ads! The running time is only 23 mins 46 secs (I checked on catch-up) from a half-hour programme. Take into account that the end of the first half spends time previewing what’s coming in the second, and then the second half begins with a review of the first … well, frankly, that doesn’t leave much time for the actual programme: 20 minutes at most? This may seem an odd way to begin the review, but I think that sense of rushing and lack of time played out in the actual watching. This is Jamie Oliver you’ve got, Channel 4, and moreover Jamie in Italy. To do this justice, the programme – taking into account all those minutes lost to ads – should be an hour-long.
The programme was as much about travel as cooking and as we watched Jamie and his mate Gennaro Contaldo speed round one of the Aeolian Islands, which lie north of Sicily, on their Vespa, I thought what a great place it would be to visit. One of the ‘themes’ of this series – apart from being set in Italy – is Jamie’s interaction with local nonnas as he travels round the country – nonna being the Italian word for grandmother. And of course we all know that nonnas know best in the kitchen! Last night Jamie watched as a Sicilian nonna in her nineties made a glorious stuffed squid dish with local capers; she told him off for wanting to hold the squid together with a cocktail stick – it needed to be sewn to stop the filling falling out. Later Jamie made a simpler squid dish for us back at home to try.
It was good to see Jamie leaving behind a lot of his Naked Chef pukka enthusiasm and calming down now he’s in his 40s, which for me made it easier to watch him. And he’s ever loyal to his former mentor Gennaro but this isn’t a duo act – it’s definitely Jamie’s show.
It was a fun programme – but not great. It was more of a taster than a serious look at Sicilian cooking; it was just all too rushed – a little bit of cooking, a quick chat with a nonna, the odd joke with Gennaro; a quick look at the island as the camera panned across the landscape while the men raced along on their scooter. Rick Stein offers us one hell of a lot more in his half-hour travel-cookery programmes, like Venice to Istanbul and Long Weekends. But then a BBC half-hour is a lot longer than a Channel 4 half-hour.