Grace Dent on TV: Jamie Oliver’s shameless helping of food porn is just a pukka treat

This week Grace watched... Jamie’s Comfort Food, Channel 4

Before I begin my appraisal of Jamie Oliver’s new Channel 4 offering,  Comfort Food, which contains no  recipes and this week actually devoted 10 whole minutes to “assembling a beef burger”, I must admit to  flagrant bias.

I really like Jamie Oliver. I  always have. His books sit in my kitchen spattered with puttanesca sauce and dappled with floury  fingerprints. I’ll tolerate no negative jibber-jabber about the tousle-haired, wood-fired-kiln-botherer.  Fifteen years, we’ve been on this journey – me and him –sometimes on a Vespa, sometimes through Italy or North America or Cornwall, sometimes in his Nan Tiger’s back pantry or his Dad’s boozer. Now we are in a forest, poking a burger with a stick and learning to make macaroni cheese. And I can’t say I’m unhappy about it.

Oh, sneerers may sneer, but my love is pure. Oliver has made me and millions of others a  better cook. There is a recipe in his 30-Minute Meals book for chicken pie with peas à la française, which, I swear, will always save the day when one finds oneself staring blankly at the clock  mumbling, “I’m SURE there’s something important happening tonight that I’ve forgotten…  Ooh, doorbell. I wasn’t expecting guests… Bollocks.” Obviously, if you’re reading this and are under 25 years old, relax. People will be sated  by 16 cans of Kestrel Pilsner, a sharing bag of  pickled onion Spooky Spaceships and carte blanche to vomit in next door’s conifer hedge.

However, as the years pass, have no doubt that one’s friends will become ever more arduously grasping in their dining demands. This is when one becomes terribly grateful for Oliver’s “pukka” meatballs and his “good old” recipe for “pimped-up” jacket potatoes.

Clearly other television chefs, like Michel Roux Jr, have more credibility, but, to my mind, their practical appeal is limited. Roux seems like a charming man, on the evidence of his endless patience with the sort of berks who give up their jobs as brain surgeons to enter MasterChef. But what use is Roux on a wet Tuesday night when all the cupboard holds is a tin of skipjack tuna flakes and a forlorn bag of pasta bow ties? Would Roux pad at least three pages in a recipe book simply by merging the bow ties and tuna, scattering them with cheese and calling it something like “Buddy Bear and Joolzies’ pyjamas and EastEnders  Last-Minute Supsups”, not forgetting to add  photos of his family in elegant sleeptime linen and soft focus, looking achingly perfect. Non.

Incidentally, Jools featured in the first episode of Comfort Food, nibbling a pavlova, smiling  prettily and displaying the very slim, toned brown arms of a woman whose expensive personal  trainer and beach holidays are quite possibly paid for by the Asda book buyers’ mega bulk buy of Comfort Food alone.

Clearly, if you like the show, you will need the book. During this pleasant half-hour of television, no one seems overly bothered with frivolities like measurements. There have been many jokes about “food porn” since the arrival of Nigella kneeling by her fridge in her nightie, but Comfort Food is the most shameless display of culinary “money shots” pushed through as educational programming ever risked.

Bacon turns gloriously brown in an inch of oil while Oliver eggs it on like a coy lover. Cheese melts slowly, dripping over a moist burger, laid on to a bed of iceberg chopped into “special” sauce that is little more than ketchup and mayo. Jamie and his mate Christian coo and leer over the  perfect burger, pointing out its curves and  extremities, like two lads weighing up the dancefloor at Pulse Nitespot in Garstang. Long, intimate camera time is devoted to white lobster meat  falling easily from a cracked tail into a vat of  unctious macaroni cheese. Let’s not get bogged down in the awfulness of how to carry home a lobster or kill it. Let’s not think about the reality of serving burgers to one’s mates as “dinner” and seeing their thankless faces.

Nothing horrible or difficult happens during Comfort Food. Oliver makes a pavlova with an under-four year-old in close proximity and no one needs Valium or to be hosed down afterwards. In the future, all cookery shows will be like this. Cookery shows for an audience who have no intention whatsoever of cooking, and in fact may never do anything more adventurous than fill a Pot Noodle to the “fill level” line, yet who still really enjoy the visual thrill of watching food being prepared.

I’m not sure where food shows go from here. By 2040 Jamie may be filmed in a farmhouse kitchen simply pouring cereal, slow motion, into a china bowl. Ice-cold milk sloshing slowly on to the flakes. A lovingly sourced cereal spoon  clinking prettily, as it sprinkles brown sugar  daintily. Jools in her jimjams looking pretty but starving. Jamie placing pieces of bread slowly into an expensive toaster while talking us breathily through how nice toast is with butter. Maybe with jam. Maybe with marmalade. Maybe with a pukka cup of tea! He won’t go into a lot of detail. It’s all in the book if you want to buy it. I’ll roll my eyes for a bit and then do an Amazon pre-order.

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