Take a Naked Chef. Add a few spoonfuls of Hell's Kitchen to enhance the flavour. Mix with half a tin of Faking It. Skim the top of Pop Idol and add to the rest. Sprinkle a handful of Grand Designs. Beat well, preferably in a thought-liquidiser. Finally bake at 250C, gas mark 6, for 55 minutes, weekly, for 7 weeks and hey presto! You've got Jamie's Kitchen.

The secret of this recipe lies in its main ingredient: an ambitious idea concocted by Oliver himself - to take 15 young unemployed Londoners and turn them into gastronomic artists in 8 months. At the same time, to take an old wreck of a building and turn it into a funky, mould-breaking restaurant. To be followed by cameras and the eager eyes of the nation every step of the way.

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There is definitely a lot on Jamie's plate in this series: he cooks, but only infrequently, which is a shame, because this is what he does best. In fact, his zeal and energy in the kitchen is the most impressive part of the show and undoubtedly the key to his enormous success in both haute cuisine and television. He sponsors the project and watches the costs rocket to over a million above the original budget. He supervises a dodgy, depressing building site. He becomes a dad (twice) and still steals away in the early hours to bake bread with his students. He teaches and baby sits an unruly bunch of youngsters, who don't know a sprig of basil from a stick of celery; who miss classes and throw tantrums, who cannot remember that long thin pasta is called spaghetti, cannot describe an oyster and refuse, toddler-like, to taste the food they cook; who begrudge and question Jamie's motive for the whole project, putting it on greed for more publicity, money and fame.

Despite all the drama, ultimately, if you've seen one episode, you've seen most of the series: there is something nauseatingly predictable in this reality show formula ("reality show"? "formula"? Surely the terms should cancel each other) Still, each episode is built around an identical roller-coaster backbone, which goes like this: Jamie demonstrates a recipe, trainees practice, busy kitchen scene, knives chop-chopping, rings of carrots rain into boiling water, steam clouds; new catering challenge is set for the trainees (charity ball, celebrity meal, working lunch); big problem on the horizon; tears, gastronomic disasters, adverse weather, clashes among the group; if none of the above, then try angry wife, incompetent builders, merciless accountant, sheer exhaustion, or the common flu! Nail-biting moments, shows of tenacity and talent (greater than the previous cowardice, or sloth) and then, phew... triumph! Another pie has been saved, another palate pampered. Speeches, accolades, trumpets. We are full.

No surprise then that losers get much more air time on this show. Those trainees who excel, or simply keep their noses to the grind, who are there when it matters and usually save the day, remain largely unknown, while truants and prima donnas are the stars. Instead of getting the boot, they get "one last chance" after another, week after week. Not only is this blatantly unfair, but also results in tedious and annoying television. Tantrum is followed by lecture followed by tears followed by heart-to-heart and again.

After months of this dreary stuff, Jamie declares "he loves them all". Well, he's a better man than I.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2004
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Jamie's Kitchen packshot
The celebrity chef tries to make kitchen contenders out of the unemployed.
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Director: Sandi Scott

Writer: Mark Halliley

Starring: Jamie Oliver and students

Year: 2002

Runtime: 350 minutes

Country: UK


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