1.25.2008

How Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver Jumped the Shark, Part I

(Editor's Note: Hilary Crowe has recently relocated to London. This is the first of a two part commentary. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Hilary Crowe

It’s the end of the third long week in my introduction to London, and as I drag my feet across the always wet cobblestones and up the treacherously slippery marble stoop and stairs back to my euphemistically “cozy” flat, all I can think about is tonight’s cheap eats – the modest omelette. I look forward to this knowing that in the flats’ gap of a communal kitchen, I’ll have to hedge my bets and launch my nightly war with the finicky stove. The wobbly card table will be occupied, so tonight, like most others, I’ll wedge myself past my peers and navigate narrow hallways and blind corners back to my room, balancing the steaming plate and carton of fragile leftover eggs as I open doors and fumble for keys. Safely seated on my “dining room floor,” space heater against my back, I’ll dig in and tune out in front of one of the five channels British terrestrial television offers its audience for a mandatory £208 a year. So goes my lackluster, yet oddly satisfying, typical evening meal.

Thus far, compared to Tampa, Florida, Washington, D.C., and even New York City, London life proves to be a bit more unforgiving. Tasks made simple by suburbia – sedans, familiarity with one’s cultural landscape and comparatively modern infrastructure – are now tiny battles by which my day is won. Each hour is a struggle to gain some semblance of social consciousness, yet the grueling day still feels too short – streetlights burn bright at 4 p.m. and pubs tap out at 11 p.m., which is just as well, as the tube closes at midnight, even on weekends. As anyone sporting a suit and serious haircut on Fleet Street will attest, time is money: there’s never enough of either.

So when A-list, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s sensational Channel 4 television special Jamie’s Fowl Dinners was the feature presentation during last Friday’s TV dinner/zombie-fest, my usual poultry-centric meal was a bit harder to digest. This was not because I felt terrible for chomping on the breasts of cage-reared chickens that grew so fast and disproportionately large that their mangled legs could barely carry them to the cornmeal. It was because my five-years-long, smalltime celebrity crush was not, in fact, my own best kept secret from across the pond but a powerful player in British business, politics, and omnipresent in advertising. And he, who I thought few people knew or cared enough to be smitten about, was now accusing me of selfishly stuffing my ignorant, anti-gourmand face with ill-gotten goods, railing against my fellow proletariat/student/people-who-live-on budgets from his ivory tower of fame and fortune.

(To read the second part of this commentary, please scroll down or go here.)

(Photo of Jamie Oliver by coolhawks88 of London via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)








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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 years in England myself and I would say the only regrets I had at the end of my sta, were the few evenings I spent watching television by myself.

I know it's hard especially at the beginning but try to reach out to people and not lose a moments time to emerse yourself in the culture. Cheap eats at home with friends get cheaper as the volume of people go up and you rotate who cooks and you'll learn more from a two way dialogue than you ever will absorb in a one way "exchange" with a free range chicken salesman on the telly.

Also, we all have done this to some extent but try not to get caught up in broad cultural generalizations like Americans live to work, and British work to live. You'll find over time most generalizations like that particular one, are absurd. The British have an infinitely complex culture, the nuance of which is even harder to penetrate if you fall prey to generalizations. There is a few thousand years of history behind every Brit and it's hard to find even two Brits be they from Wales, Scotland, England, etc.. who can be lumped accurately into one general statement.

Good luck!

Hilary Crowe said...

thanks for reading. i am fully aware that generalizations are just that, and there are exceptions to every rule. it's just been my observation that in Europe, people are a bit more laid back than in America - in general, of course. I mean, we don't get months long paid vacations. also, i am enrolled in a mandatory course on british life and culture, and if there's one thing i've learned from that class it's that britain is varied in population and cultures, but united. but different when it counts. you get the idea. so, yes, generalizations are terrible.

also, i'm out, about and ejoying the culture just fine thanks, but after a long day of classes and readings, a bit of vegging out in front of the telly is in order. besides, tv in britain (and in america, no?) certainly sheds some light on more than a few aspects of brit culture.

Anonymous said...

Well at least you're watching British TV. My first month in the UK I lived in a B&B and every Sunday night I watched 24. I still try to live that down!

I lived in Oxfordshire which is much less chaotic than London and it still took me about a month to get my feet firmly planted so you're probably ahead of me in adapting.

Have fun! You'll know you've arrived when you can tell a scouser accent from a Cockney one. My favourite experience was when I was in York and at a pub heard a conversation in York dialect. I was astonished to realize that incomprehensible old dialects were still alive in a country that has been unified as long as England. I had seen the road maps in Wales, in Welsh and speaking of TV, I had seen TV stations in Scotland in local dialect but I was really surprised that in York you can still hear another language! That is the Britain i learned to love!

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