This past Monday, we were delighted to attend a screening of Chef Jamie Oliver's new show "Jamie's American Roadtrip" (LA episode) and to participate in a Q&A with the Naked Chef himself. Jamie's new cookbook, Jamie's America, reflects the American roadtrip he took on the show through recipes and pictures.
While watching the screening, we drank prosecco and munched on Jamie's Cajun popcorn (popcorn seasoned with salt and what tasted like a smoky chipotle pepper or chili powder) and later, his Rocky Road (chocolate brittle packed with hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, golden raisins, dried cranberries, sea salt, and more - perfect treat for Christmas!).
Instead of the guide-book, glitzy, touristy spots of LA, in this episode, Jamie endears himself to the Mexican-American community and learns about their food. He is inspired by their family culture and variety of ingredients (he even visits a cactus farm where he tastes the plant for the first time). The most poignant parts of the episode, however, is when he visits Homeboy Industries (restaurant/cooking school that teaches former gang members how to cook) and eats with former gang members in East LA.
Q: Why did you decide to do this type of show rather than a "Best Places to Visit"-type show?
Jamie: Despite working in America for over 15 years, I still can see America from an outsider's point of view. Like many Brits, I traveled here as a boy with my family and did the touristy bits. But I wanted to show American cooking through families and off the beaten path. American cooking can be artisanal. I traveled for the show during an exciting time. I was in Georgia when President Obama won. (For the show and the book, Jamie was in Los Angeles, Arizona, Wyoming, Georgia, Louisiana, and NYC).
Q: How did you get the show commissioned?
Jamie: It's difficult when you don't want to do a cooking competition show or something like that. I had to partially finance the show with my own money. Eventually I think I'll break even, but it's not about that. It's about learning and teaching through food and meeting wonderful people. I have a wonderful research team that doesn't research by going online, but by going out into the field. It may take longer but I think it makes for better stories.
Q: In the LA episode we just saw, you were in some dangerous places. How were you able to befriend the gang members?
Jamie: I think food is a great common ground with anyone and I'm just a regular bloke trying to learn. You get a good understanding of people's lives by eating with them. They were very open with me and there were even some things that were too graphic to show.
Q: Are you still in contact with Huntington and what is the aftermath of the show?
Jamie: Yes, I'm still in contact with Huntington. Through the show, I was able to get 2 years funding for school lunch programs and they were able to raise a third year on their own. The kitchen that we built for the show is now as busy as ever with classes being booked. The church in the show (First Baptist church) has been able to offer healthy family dinners for $10.
I'm currently working on Season 2 of Food Revolution. I'll be in LA starting in January for it. LA school boards don't want me in their schools, but somehow I'll get in (legally, of course). If I am not allowed in the schools, I'll educate the parents and students who'll hopefully want reform for their school lunch program. (From reading this article, it definitely sounds like the students in LA would welcome his help!)
Check out Jamie's website for some of the recipes from his new cookbook, Jamie's America. Jamie's American Road Trip has not been picked up yet in the U.S., but has already been seen in 120 other countries (Lucky readers in Canada get to watch it on Food Network Canada on Thursday at 9pm EST). After watching the engaging Los Angeles episode, we're hopeful that we can watch the rest of the series here in the U.S.