I spent an evening last week with Jamie Oliver. In truth, I spent much of it WATCHING Jamie…on a large screen, but then I DID see the real-live Jamie Oliver IN PERSON and I even had a moment with him. Okay, there were 15 rows of seats separating us (as in…he was on the stage and I was in the audience), but, still, I locked eyes with him. (He might have a different story.)
I was seeing a screening of an episode of Jamie's American Road Trip, a series done to highlight Jamie’s new cookbook, Jamie’s America. (Or maybe the cookbook was done to highlight the show…whatever.)
Jamie takes a series of trips around the country and gathers recipes from all kinds of folks. The episode we saw featured former gang members and fabulous Mexican cooks (not necessarily the same people). In other episodes, there are Navajo Indians, alligator hunters from
What’s interesting about this book and show is that, unlike Jamie’s Food Revolution,
Much of the food he looks at is ethnic food and, I suppose, that’s one of the lessons. Our grandmothers from other lands cooked real food, which is naturally healthier and more delicious than much of what passes for dinner now. But Jamie doesn’t talk about the negatives. He SHOWS great food from a very diverse
He starts in
Jamie tells us that Mexican food is not good in
Maria is making gorditas. Jamie is enthralled by the name, which means little fat girls. They’re puffy, miniature tortilla rounds. Maria tops them with queso fresco, beans and hot sauce. Jamie loves that they are a quick, fresh, hand-held, authentically Mexican treat that you can make at home. His gorditas are really nice and light and topped with an apple salsa. The recipe follows at the end of this post.
Maria’s party goes full blast, with lots of food, drink and dancing. Jamie makes the point that in this part of LA, when you’re inside your house, you’re fully Mexican. Outside, you can be whatever you want.
His next visit is with a former Blood. Somehow he’s happened upon this young man named Rico, who is making enchiladas and having a few people over to commemorate the death of his uncle, who apparently wasn’t the most law-abiding person. But he was the closest thing Rigo had to a father.
One of Rigo’s friends explains to Jamie, “Ain’t no American dream out there” for them, but Jamie tells us that cooking has been a way out of the gang lifestyle for Rigo. He’s working and learning new skills and he’s not wearing his gang color of red anymore.
During all this tough talk, Rigo grills green chilies, purées them and pours them in the bottom of a baking dish. He wraps up cooked (grilled?) meat in warm tortillas and sets them on the bed of chilies. Meanwhile Jamie chats with Rigo’s friends, who aren’t doing so well. One is in a wheelchair and jobs are hard to find.
Rigo talks about missing his uncle and how he was there for him. Both he and Jamie get choked up and before it goes too far, in a charming bit a business, Jamie clears his throat and says, “Let’s get these bastards in the oven.”
The four of them sit down to eat, after praying for Rigo’s uncle over the food they made. Helicopters are flying overhead. (The kind looking for perps? Probably.) Jamie tells us that in this city, your fortune is decided for you, depending on the neighborhood you come from.
There are more visits to more people and places - a wonderful café and bakery, Homeboy Industries, fully staffed by former gang members, where Jamie discovers a wonderful Mole made with 37 ingredients. “Food can break the cycle of crime,” Jamie learns here.
He goes to a baptism and a baptism lunch, which he's offered to cater; Jamie has a fishing trip with Rigo, who used to fish with his uncle. He shows Rigo how to make a delicious looking fish taco sandwich from freshly grilled fish, topped with peppers, avocado, sour cream, radishes, chilies and lime juice. Yum!
Jamie learns about fresh cactus, which will go in the baptism dish, which he cooks AT the party. He sautés garlic in oil and adds mussels, tequila and chilies, then seven different fish, coriander, tomatoes, lime juice and the cactus. And more lime juice. It’s served over white rice. Everyone approves.
Jamie’s also made a dessert tart with chilies and chocolate, inspired by the mole. He makes a shortcrust and puts caramel over the base and fills it with eggs, sugar and chocolate. Then he sprinkles over a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, dried chili and orange zest.
Jamie tries mescal (and apparently quite a few other things - off camera) offered by a sweet old lady in a marketplace.
Strangely, American Road Trip has been shown in 120 OTHER countries, but not in
This series is really a big pat on the back for
What I liked best about Jamie’s American Road Trip wasn’t the food and the recipes, although those are terrific. It was the people he introduced us to; and the lives he showed us, which had been made better by coming together over a meal or celebration or the ability to make an (honest) living.
Jamie showed the redemptive qualities of cooking and what preparing fresh, home-based food can do for an individual, a family and an entire community.
Jamie Oliver’s Gorditas and Salsa (serves 16)
Posted with permission
Printable recipe here
For the salsa:
• 1 red apple, halved and cored
• 3 large, ripe tomatoes, quartered and deseeded
• 2 spring onions, trimmed
• 1 red chili, deseeded
• a small bunch of fresh coriander
• 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
• 1 lime
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 200g Don Francisco Mexican cheese, or feta (which is similar)
• optional: 1 fresh red chilli, very finely sliced
• 1 lime, cut into wedges
Put the cornmeal and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the baking powder into the hot water and pour this into the well. Using a fork, mix the cornmeal into the liquid, and when it starts to come together use your hands to knead it. Divide the dough into 16 equal squash-ball-sized pieces and dust them lightly with flour. Roll each piece around in your hands, then pat and flatten into a small round roughly the size of the base of a wine glass. Put these on an oiled tray, dust with flour and put aside while you make your salsa.
Finely chop your apple, tomatoes and spring onions, and finely slice your chili. Put them all into a bowl. Pick the leaves from your coriander and put them into a bowl of water until you’re ready to serve. Chop the coriander stalks up nice and finely and add to the bowl with the other salsa ingredients. Put a large pan on a medium heat and add your pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Toss them around for a few minutes and toast them. Add them to your salsa with the juice of your lime, a good lug of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well, then have a taste and add a little more seasoning, lime juice or chili if you think it needs more attitude. Put the pan back on a medium heat and add a couple of good lugs of olive oil. Cook as many gorditas as will comfortably fit into the pan for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until they’re golden and puff up a little.
Serve the gorditas warm out of the pan with a tablespoon of your beautiful salsa, a little hunk of cheese, a couple of your drained coriander leaves and a few slices of chili, if you fancy, and with lime wedges on the side for squeezing over.