TV blog: Jamie Cooks Italy

Benjie Goodhart / 09 August 2018

Jamie Oliver takes in the sights and tastes of Italy as he travels the country with good friend and mentor Gennaro Contaldo.



Jamie Cooks Italy 1/8, Monday 13th August, 8:30pm, Channel 4

We’re going to start this week’s blog by being a little bit petty and mean-spirited. Normal service, in other words. The title, Jamie Cooks Italy. What does that even mean? Jamie Cooks In Italy, yes. I’d accept Jamie Cooks Italian. But Jamie is definitively not cooking Italy. That would be both an extraordinary physical achievement and a crime against humanity.

Anyway, in his new series, Mr Oliver is travelling around Italy with his old friend and mentor, the chef Gennaro Contaldo. They’re visiting some beautiful places and eating some beautiful food. It’s a tough gig, working in TV. But in this series, rather than visiting the restaurants and chefs of Italy, they’re catching up with the mamas and nonnas (grandmothers) to learn about the recipes that these redoubtable women use to feed their families.

For the series opener, they’re on the Aeolian Islands which, disappointingly, are not made of garlic mayonnaise but are, instead, a group of Volcanic islands north of Sicily. We join Jamie and Gennaro as they’re pootling around on a Vespa. (Later in the programme, as they’re riding through a village, Gennaro shouts “Ciao Francesco” to a local man, in what is the single most Italian thing to ever happen in the history of the world).

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They’re off to meet Nonna Francina, a 92-year-old woman who still farms her own capers. She’s showing them how to cook squid stuffed with capers, but first she has a story to tell. When she was little, her grandfather used to come home from fishing and say “Hey girls, let’s make stuffed squid.” Blimey. I hope Nonna Francina’s cooking is better than her storytelling. The squid is stuffed with pecorino, breadcrumbs, garlic and capers, and then sewn shut. Yes, sewn. I suppose it means you can floss while you are eating.

I’m not surer Nonna Francina would like me much. I don’t go a bundle on her stories, and I can’t bear capers. Ho-hum. Then it’s off to the dockside, where Jamie is cooking a dish of, um, squid and capers. Pretty similar to Nonna Francina’s dish, then. Except it’s made even worse by adding mashed anchovies.

Part two sees us off to meet Nonna Marina, a stripling at 72, who feeds her family of 10 kids and countless grandkids almost exclusively with products from her garden. Today, she’s cooking rabbit. This is a concern. If she only uses products from her garden, and we’re having rabbit, does that mean there’s an empty hutch that says Thumper on it somewhere? We’ll know soon enough, if one of the grandkids is tearfully shovelling their lunch down later on.

Nonna Marina does the rabbit two ways, and it does look fantastic. Then it’s time for another Jamie dish. He’s doing a chicken and aubergine pot roast with couscous and capers (sigh). He seems very happy with it. “These aubergines are insane,” he cries, confusingly.

And that’s that. In truth, it’s pretty hard not to love this programme. Jamie and Gennaro’s passion for food is readily apparent, and the approach of learning simple, rustic cooking from the Nonnas is an original take on proceedings. And Italy. Oh Italy. The food, the culture, the geography. It really doesn’t get much better. Ciao, Francesco.

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Orangutan Jungle School 1/3, Wednesday 15th August, 8pm, Channel 4

Deep in the jungles of Borneo is a school for orphans. It’s split into sections – the nursery, the primary school, and the secondary school, and the orphans are given skills to go out into the world as independent, successful adults. But these are orphans with a difference. They’re all stocky, ginger, hairy creatures. Oh, and they’re also orangutans. (Yes, I accept that the big reveal here was probably rendered slightly less effective by the programme being very clearly called Orangutan Jungle School).

This three-part series follows daily life in the school, with all the attendant dramas and delights that entails. And the delights are manifold. I would say that until you have seen baby orangutans being taken to their morning class in wheelbarrows, you’ve not seen the single cutest thing Mother Nature has to offer.

Of course, there’s a tragic side to all of this. These orangutans need to be raised by the school because they are orphaned, almost always because some absolute moron with a gun has taken out their mum. Technically, they’re probably not orphans, as their dads are still alive, but it seems the male orangutan is not big on parenting. They impregnate, then swan off for a life of eating and sleeping. I suggested to my wife that we could learn much from our simian friends, but she remains unconvinced.

Classes at school include how to crack coconuts, how to pluck fruits from high branches, and how to avoid snakes. The orangutans are an absolute delight, each with their own character. Valentino is the pick of the bunch – cheeky, naughty, attention-seeking and hilarious, he reminds me a lot of my daughter. Only, fortunately, she doesn’t have the strength to rip my arm off.

At the age of eight, the orangutans may leave the school and go to university. Only their University doesn’t involve any study, just going off to a new location where, unsupervised, they are left to their own devices, where they can spend their lives eating, snoozing, and messing about. In other words, an identical experience to the human version of university, only with less beer.

One of the university students, though, has had a problem. Clara has given birth, but is in danger of rejecting her baby, Clarita, after it was taken away from her for a while by a male. Both mother and baby have been bought back to the school, and, according to the narration, are to be examined by a goose. This is ridiculous. I’m all for learning from nature, and I’m sure that all animals have their own form of wisdom, but a goose is in no way a creature equipped to help out in this scenar… Oh. It turns out the school vet is called Agus. My mistake.

After a time, the team attempt to introduce Clarita back in with Clara. Clara will smell her to decide if she will accept her. I have to confess, if I’d had to decide whether to accept either of my children by simply smelling them as babies, things might have worked out very differently.

This is a documentary series with no airs and graces. There isn’t a huge amount of drama – in point of fact, not a great deal happens at all. But we’re dealing with baby orangutans here. You don’t need much to happen. You can just look at the screen and gurgle happily. I could watch these beautiful, affectionate, hilarious creatures on a loop for days on end and not get tired of it. But for now, a three-part series will have to suffice.

The best… and the rest

Saturday 11th August

Sylvia Plath: Life Inside the Bell Jar, 9pm, BBC Two: A look at the iconic novel and its enigmatic, troubled author. Those interviewed include Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes.

Match of the Day, 10:20pm, BBC One: Don’t worry, world! The gap between the World Cup and the new football season is finally over. That was the longest fifteen minutes of my life! Tonight, Gary Lineker and co return with highlights of matches including Newcastle v Spurs and Huddersfield v Chelsea, while newcomers Cardiff, Wolves and Fulham all play.

Sunday 12th August

Fake or Fortune 1/5, 9pm, BBC Two: Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate disputed works. Tonight, did an eager enthusiast pay £165,000 for a painting that isn’t by William Nicholson?

Monday 13th August

The Great British Menu 1/45, 7:30pm, BBC Two: Return of the competitive cookery show that sees top chefs battling for the honour to cook a course at a banquet. This week, the chefs are from the North East.

Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry, 9pm, BBC Two: The always-watchable Anita Rani travels to the city formerly known as Bombay to investigate the massive Bollywood film industry based there. Hang on, shouldn’t it now be called Mumballywood?

Tuesday 14th August

A Passage to Britain 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: Dr Yasmin Khan tells the story of immigration from India to the UK by focussing on three key decades. Tonight, the 1930s.

Wednesday 15th August

Recipes that Made Me 1/4, 8pm, BBC Two: Nisha Katona criss-crosses the UK on an Anglo-Indian culinary odyssey to discover how family recipes have been passed down through the generations from the Indian subcontinent.

Thursday 16th August

Celebrity Big Brother Live Launch, 9pm, Channel 5: Oh lawks, here we go again. The celebs rumoured to be involved this year include Brad Pitt, Diego Maradona, Barbara Streisand and Michelle Obama. Oh no, sorry, make that Megan Markle’s half sister and someone who used to be in S Club 7.

Friday 17th August

Extraordinary Rituals 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: This documentary series looks at rituals from across the world that we use to hatch, match and despatch people in our lives.

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