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The Naked Chef Tackles Turkey
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The Naked Chef Tackles Turkey

Food

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Now from cookbooks to cooking. Jamie Oliver has come a long way since he first appeared on television as "The Naked Chef."

(Soundbite of TV show "The Naked Chef")

Mr. JAMIE OLIVER (Celebrity Chef): So what I'm going to do, I'm just going to put a little bit of salt and pepper inside and outside the fish. All right. And I've got some fennel seeds, and they're great with fish.

HANSEN: Since then, Oliver has opened his own line of restaurants called Fifteen. There he employs disadvantaged youngsters to give them experience in the culinary business. The chef has also challenged the British government to make children's school dinners more nutritious. And Jamie Oliver's latest campaign is to teach people basic cooking skills and then pass them on to friends and family. It's quite a plateful for someone who's only 33 years old. Jamie Oliver is in our New York bureau - clothed, I presume. Welcome, Jamie.

Mr. OLIVER: I'm not going to comment on that. You know what it's like being a newsreader. They're always naked from the waist downwards.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Always true. That's always true. And since you're in New York, and I'm in Washington, hey, you know, I can't tell on you. Tell us, where did this passion for both cooking and education come from?

Mr. OLIVER: Good question, really. I mean, I think the cooking was a sort of simple one. I grew up in a pub restaurant, and my dad was one of the first people to introduce proper local authentic British cooking back into pubs, where you could get original ales and drinks. I mean, I've tried to work out why I got so obsessed by the educational part. And I think when I was in secondary school, I spent the whole time in special needs. But I could cook really well.

Even at the age of 10, 11, I was working every weekend in the summer holidays. And what would happen is the 18, 20-year-old boys would come out of college and work at Dad's restaurant, and I'd be the one breaking them into the kitchen. And from then, I just taught all the time, really.

HANSEN: You're also concerned about the way kids eat in the United Kingdom. You used your celebrity to actually challenge the government to take another look at school lunches. I wonder if you have any recommendations to the United States.

Mr. OLIVER: Oh, I've got so many, darling. I can't tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Shortlist?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, look, here's the vibe. Basically, what we've achieved in five years - and by the way, it's not all done and solved and stamped and signed, sealed, and delivered, but we're certainly on a really positive journey that certainly America could pick up on. We've banned rubbish in vending machines. We've now got nutritional standards for local food, for fresh food within schools. It's now going to be compulsory from next year for every 11 to 14-year-old to be taught 16 hours of basic hands-on cooking. It's a really interesting time at the moment.

If you look back at American history or English history, this is the first time where we've had a population that's been hit by the squeeze of a recession that hasn't got as a whole the knowledge to turn beans, rice, cheap cuts of meat, vegetables into a cheap, delicious meal. I just think that the knowledge of cooking is ever more important in modern-day life.

HANSEN: Your cookbook, "Jamie at Home," you talk about eating seasonally. And that really is a way to kind of stretch the dollar in the wallet. Are you familiar with the American Thanksgiving feast?

Mr. OLIVER: I'm very familiar with it. But, I mean, I think British people don't really understand it.

HANSEN: Well, yes, of course, because the Pilgrims did indeed leave England to come to America.

Mr. OLIVER: They left us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: That's what I used to tell my mom whenever I'd call her on Thanksgiving. I spent some in England, and we would do kind of expatriate Thanksgiving dinners. How can you put together a feast like that on a budget?

Mr. OLIVER: You can take different views on it. I mean, at the end of the day, vegetables and potatoes are always cheap. And you know, a good roasted potato that's been parboiled, seasoned with salt, you know, tossed in a little olive oil if you want to be good, maybe in olive oil - or butter if you want to be a bit naughty, or goose or turkey fat if you want to get some proper flavor going on.

As far as the meat's concerned, I mean, it's basically a fact that most people in Britain and America waste about 40 percent of their Christmas meal. So look at waste. You can get a smaller turkey, and you'll just clean every little bit of meat off of it. Or get your normal big turkey, but make that meat work for you for the days after. You know, instead of looking at it as a daily budget, look at it as a weekly budget. You can strip all of that brown meat and meat from under the carcass.

You know, you can put that back in a pan and just slowly bring it up to a crispy state and do beautiful Asian pancakes. Or you could hit it with a load of leeks and just cook it long and slow, and then put a pie lid on top and do a killer turkey and sweet leek pie. Incredible. You know, so I think it will be wrong to say to America, have a really boring and drab Christmas or Thanksgiving meal. I'd kind of try and be clever and look at the weekly budget, and just get that turkey working for you.

HANSEN: Final question, and it's one that perhaps a lot of listeners in America need to know the answer to. What does pukka mean?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Pukka is an Indian word that kind of specifically relates, actually, to cooking, and it kind of means awesome, the real deal, the real McCoy, authentic. I used to say it, but it was more like Cockney rhyming slang, really. I mean, it was more of a kind of an East London slang word which has never left me, even 10 years later and three kids later. That's the magic of TV, isn't it? I mean, like, you know, once you make those films, they're cast in forever. And they're repeated on Food Network, and you know, I'm forever 21.

HANSEN: Not a bad deal.

Mr. OLIVER: I don't feel it.

HANSEN: Chef Jamie Oliver joined us from our New York bureau. His new recipe book, "Jamie At Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life," is out now. Jamie Oliver, thanks a lot.

Mr. OLIVER: Thanks, darling. Cheers. All the best.

HANSEN: Jamie Oliver also took time to answer some of the questions you submitted to our blog. To read his replies, go to npr.org/soapbox.

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