Tuesday, 19 May 2009

What Jamie Did Next…

Joanne Hollows blogs about some recent developments in the world of Jamie Oliver.

Back in April we wrote about Jamie’s Ministry of Food and since this point we’ve noticed a couple of developments that people interested in the impact of the tv chef might want to keep an eye on. First has been the low-key (by Oliver’s standards) launch of Recipease, a mini-chain of stores which, according to Jamie’s website, are ‘beautiful food and kitchen emporiums which are able to sit within neighbourhoods and serve people really well’. This ‘special project’, with its emphasis on locality and community, was launched on the back of Ministry of Food and initially seems to fit with the campaign to get people cooking healthy foods. The shops offer cooking classes and instructions and assistance on making quick and easy meals from the produce on sale there.

However, the similarities between this and Ministry of Food quickly begin to unravel. Unlike the Ministry of Food centres for which Oliver tried to attract public funding, these are business ventures. The locations are far from the working-class Northern towns of the series: the shops have so far been rolled out in the extremely affluent Southern sites of Battersea and Brighton which offer far greater opportunities for profit than Rotherham. The cooking classes (which last approximately an hour) are priced from £17.50 for ‘Knife Skills’ to £35 for ‘Get Creative: Pasta’. The audience for these sessions appears to be far from the ‘welfare dependents’ that featured so heavily in his initial campaign to get Britain cooking again. What’s more, the stores don’t just offer the opportunity to buy ingredients and equipment or learn to cook. While Oliver claims that ‘the main idea is to service you: the locals’, the shops also offer ‘Easy to Go’ where the recipes you can learn to make have been pre-prepared in the form of an upmarket ready meal. In place of the Doner Kebabs from Rotherham’s take-aways we have ‘Zesty Chicken Kebabs’ to take home and pan-fry at £4.45 a serving without pitta or salad (or chips!)

The shops therefore offer convenience foods that were one of the main targets of the Ministry of Food campaign. But, of course, not all convenience foods are born equal. Jamie’s ‘Easy to Go’ range enables customers to consume a little bit of Jamie whom, it has already been established through widespread media coverage, is nutritious and good for us. They also enable the consumers who can afford them (in the high-rent neighbourhoods in which they’re located) to use convenience foods while demonstrating care. As Alan Warde has pointed out, care and convenience are usually seen as antithetical: the former associated with the warmth and personal attention of the private sphere and the latter associated with an impersonal world of industrialized production. However, because Oliver’s star image is so closely centred around the fact that ‘Jamie Cares’ then buying one of his ready-meals enables people to buy convenience food imbued with a higher order of care. This must be reassuring for the residents of Battersea if not for the residents of Rotherham who are represented as having a weakness for a diet of care-less kebabs.

The second development has been the news in the past week that some hybrid offspring of Ministry of Food and Jamie’s School Dinners is to be launched in the US in early 2010, focusing on one of the nation’s ‘fattest cities’. In terms of genre, it appears that the show will break with the kind of format used in the UK as Jamie’s vision will also be mediated by the presence of a co-host Ryan Seacrest (most famous as host of American Idol). How the politics of class – and ‘race’ and ethnicity – will unfold in the US remains to be seen. Ouellette and Hay’s work would suggest that the differences between manifestations of neo-Liberalism in the US and UK and the key differences in attitudes to welfare and the State will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the ways in which Jamie’s moral entrepreneurship is mediated. Its also unclear how Seacrest’s presence will transform the format of the Oliver campaigning documentary (although having heard Seacrest’s voiceovers on ‘Idol Gives Back’, this sounds a particularly scary prospect!) Maybe it will help launch Recipease stores in the Hamptons?
(Photo credit: Downing Street. Permissions.)


  1. Signe Rousseau19 May 2009 at 16:34

    Yes, I'll be interested to see how the US venture transpires (there have been some particularly vituperative - and entertaining - responses from UK media: http://tinyurl.com/p6u289, http://tinyurl.com/qs5hso). Most interesting will be to see what relationship develops between JO and Rachael Ray, who has already teamed up with Clinton to solve hunger and obesity... (clearly isn't working yet!).

  2. Hi Signe,
    And thank you for the links. The GQ one wouldn't open but The Guardian one did and its great (not quite sure how I missed it before). I still can't quite get over The Hollywood Reporter referring to Jamie's 'public service campaign'!

  3. Pity about the GQ link. It's called "The Nakedly Ambitious Chef", by Paul Henderson. Google should get you there.

  4. I think there may have been a problem with the GQ site last night as its very much working this morning. I had no idea that JO had contributed to GQ at one point (although it makes perfect sense).