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The Naked Chef Takes Off    by Jamie Oliver order for
Naked Chef Takes Off
by Jamie Oliver
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2001 (2001)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

What a perfectly wonderful book! Chef Jamie Oliver looks like the boy next door with a big smile, a glint in his eye, a well developed sense of fun and a gargantuan love of food. A mere twenty-four, he has already made his mark in the world of food. The Naked Chef Takes Off is his second book. His first cookbook, The Naked Chef, was an unqualified success. Oliver hosts a television series and runs a restaurant. Imagine what he'll be doing by the time he's forty. He says, 'This book isn't about cheffy food. It's for normal people who want shortcuts and tips; people who want to make simple day-to-day meals different and absolutely fantastic or something a little bit more fruity and indulgent.' His name 'The Naked Chef' resulted from his credo of 'using the bare essentials of your larder and stripping down restaurant methods to the reality of home.' He uses the freshest food he can find, preferably organic. Chef Oliver believes the world will be 90% organic by 2005. And that the price will go down as more organic foods are available. Good news.

He begins this book with the basics needed for your cupboard; no expensive ingredients, just everyday items. He continues with advice on growing and drying herbs. He liberally uses herbs to good advantage in his cooking, and prefers growing his own. He suggests that the herbs be ripped when added to a dish. Oliver cites his mother's belief that if she sent him out the door with a good breakfast inside him 'she knew that whatever else happened, I wouldn't starve for the day.' He gives recipes for some terrific morning repasts of which his mother would have approved - unusual combinations like figs, honey and ricotta, or pukkolla, his name for 'this outrageously scrumptious concoction' of rolled oats, bran, various nuts and dried fruits. His description of a bacon sandwich, 'bacon sarnie my stylie', sends you immediately to a frying pan.

Tapas, munchies and snacks. The recipe for smashed spiced chickpeas looks good and doable. The slow cooked and stuffed baby cherry chilli peppers, which 'go brilliantly' with his flat breads, will be served at my Christmas party. He uses glugs of olive oil, advises loadsa for a large amount, and 'garlic for a bit of ooorrrggghhh!' He works his way through innovative and mouthwatering salads and dressings, soups and broths, pastas and risottos, fish and shellfish, and meat, poultry and game. Although I'm a modified vegetarian, I could succumb to his pork, peaches, butter and thyme dish. Sounds wonderful. His chapter on vegetables is a revelation, suggesting ways to bake endive or fennell. Baked field mushrooms (never use those nasty button mushrooms), and baked Jerusalem artichokes make the cut, as well as ways to fix under-appreciated spinach. And then there is the improbable 'good old mashed veg' that he manages to make sound delicious.

Many chefs are not as versatile as The Naked Chef. But he seems as much at home kneading bread dough as ripping basil over a stracci. Oliver gives a basic bread dough recipe and various ways to use it. The chocolate twister bread and Gennaro bread made with leftover cheese and prosciutto had me making a list of the ingredients for my grocery list. He takes the fear of failure out of making your own fresh pasta, by use of how-to photos. Desserts - his orange and polenta biscuits (cookies to us Americans) sound and look wonderful. And there's a recipe for chocolate pots to go with the biscuits. A 'kinda Portuguese custard pie' is my goal. It looks divine. And I especially like the suggestion of strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar! He suggests you bash malted milk balls to sprinkle over vanilla ice cream. A collaboration with Dick Bradsell, a man who has set up many popular cocktail bars in London, produced recipes for bevvies that sound more than thirst-quenching. Dry Martinis, Tom Collins, old fashioneds, Bellinis are standard drinks but with a Bradsell and Oliver touch.

The Naked Chef Takes Off is a beautiful book with loadsa very good photos, brilliant recipes for the most basic of foods and short essays by a young man who seems to want to be your mate in the kitchen. Let him be. You can't go wrong with this book. Buy it to give as a gift. But be careful. You'll be tempted to keep it for yourself.

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