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Column: To Jamie Oliver’s Taste28 March 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
I am not sure what they think about this in the USA; first the Brits sent them Borat (Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan), followed by Stephen Fry, who during a TV series answers questions such as: ‘How do I hypnotise a lobster?’ in his own inimitable fashion. As if this wasn’t enough, the Golden Globes were dominated by Ricky Gervais.
Now Jamie Olivier follows hot on their heels. He doesn’t waste any time at all; he takes the bull by the horns and starts a battle against obesity in America.
Recently the first episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was broadcast by ABC on US television. After his success in persuading the British government to fund a healthier diet for school children, it is now America’s turn to receive his attention, in particular Huntington, West Virginia, the unhealthiest city in the USA.
To start with they had to get used to the term ‘lunch ladies’; on the internet people from Huntington referred to them, somewhat offended, as food service staff. Actually, they were not at all pleased with the fact that someone had taken it upon himself to tell them what to eat.
But Jamie has a valid point. The first episode shows school kids having pizza for breakfast. Children no longer drink normal milk, instead they prefer strawberry and chocolate flavoured varieties.
When he showed a group of pupils in a local school a bunch of tomatoes, in answer to his question: ‘What do you think these are called?’, a little boy replied: ‘Potatoes.’
This all happened in Huntington, which derives its local notoriety from the Hot Dog Festival held on the last Saturday in July. ‘It celebrates the unique variations of local/regional hot dogs.’
Once upon a time I was perusing the breakfast menu in Wichita Falls, Texas - indeed, on the way to Amarillo. One of the dishes came with the recommendation: ‘guaranteed to contain eighteen eggs’. During my visit I was introduced to a very attractive Miss Wichita Falls 1986, but to get used to eating eighteen eggs in one go is really too much.
Bad taste is an acquired habit, and this does not only apply to food. During many occasions of wine testing by consumers it isn’t unheard of for the cheapest wine to come out on top, simply because that is what the members of the panel drink at home.
Developing a good taste doesn’t only apply to food and drink either, the same is true for the arts. Suppose you were to confront the inhabitants of Huntington with a beautiful poem by W.H. Auden or a male ballet dancer in tights, the chances are that they will run a mile. It’s too daunting a project to tackle in earnest.
In The Netherlands I can also watch Italian and German cookery programmes. It is hard to keep your attention on the food when watching Italian shows, as the most delicious dish is usually the beautiful hostess, this apart from the fact that I rarely cook a whole squid.
The Germans also have their favourite cookery programmes. From watching them I have learned that a knob of butter is essential to any German dish. Their most famous TV chef is Horst Lichter, his name means lighter, however there is nothing ‘light’ about Horst or his recipes. He has written a cookery book called: Everything Doused in Butter. When Horst has finished his cooking I feel like cleaning my TV screen.
Well, the Dutch cuisine is not that dissimilar. Our national dish is hotchpotch; we simply excel in mashing things up. We pile this mash onto our plates and make a small indentation on top to pour in the gravy. Every country has its idiosyncratic habits.
For example, Scotland is rightly famous for producing exceptional beef. Nonetheless, when frequenting Scottish restaurants, I have quite often been served steaks of such a toughness that I could have used them to re-sole my shoes. This is too sensitive an issue to be tackled by an English TV chef.
Jamie, rest assured, your work is cut out for you in the rest of the world. I can only accommodate one cooking pan at a time, but at least I use fresh ingredients and, because I work from home, I even create my own beef stock.
Cooking on a hob with just one ring, accompanied by a Dutch novelist: I envisage great possibilities for this concept, first the TV series, of course, followed by the book. The missing ingredient? A lovely Italian lady presenter.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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