Avoid Jamie Oliver’s Paella-gate and just call family food what it is


I feel a bit sorry for Jamie Oliver. As far as I’m concerned he’s a great chef and has some really good social ideas, such as improving school meals or giving unemployed youth a chance to get into the catering industry.

However, he seems to have the “Marmite effect” on people, who either love what he’s doing, or criticise his attitude and projects.

The latest non-news is the furore surrounding his take on paella. Now, granted, it isn’t a traditional, authentic paella the way it’s still made in Valencia, but it surely doesn’t deserve to be lambasted and ridiculed to such a huge degree.

Then again, food critics start at a young age, which is why I’ve chosen to call dishes by their constituent ingredients rather than by a famous dish they may or may not resemble.

My daughters already analyse every ingredient which enters each dinner recipe, and they’re asking “what’s for tea” even before they’ve had lunch.

They have an ongoing aversion to ‘stew’ (though last week they wolfed down the slow-cooked beef, vegetables and ‘sauce’ and asked for more) even though I never call it ‘stew’.

For years we’ve been making ‘chicken-y rice-y thing” which is an excuse to use leftover chicken cooked with rice, onions, peas, sultanas and paprika. I have no idea if it bears any resemblance to a ‘real’ dish – and I don’t really care. It works for us.

Our girls love bolognese – although I am sure it would be poo-pooed by Italian traditionalists who not I have not used the correct meats or stock. Then again, I don’t have four or more hours to devote to cooking such an authentic meal — and let’s face it: they’re probably not trying to appease a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old who can spot a millimetre thin piece of cooked onion at fifty paces and ping-pong back and forth as to whether they like cheese or not.

I cook a cheat’s curry. It tastes great. My youngest daughter will eat it even though she caught me adding yoghurt to the dish just before serving it, and had a tantrum about it.

They’re super-impressed by the yellow rice I now serve (thank you turmeric) but not-so-much with the cardamom “I don’t like the pips” pods I fail to rescue from the pot before serving it.

Stir-fries are good, so long as they contain noodles and the chilli sauce isn’t too spicy. (Then again, ‘spicy’ is a moveable feast given that both salt & vinegar crisps and orange squash have previously been described as ‘spicy’.)

My most authentic dish is probably roast chicken. I’m English. I can do roast dinners. They generally go down well except when ‘the gravy tastes funny’ or the chicken has ‘black bits’ on it.

This is despite the fact I’m repeatedly told that chicken is ‘yucky’ — until I mention that there’ll be no more chicken nuggets from McDonalds if they start refusing to eat it…

I also have to tell eldest that gravy is not ‘chicken wee’.

Quiches are a new favourite. At the moment they’re shop-bought (as a few of our dishes were broken during the last house move) though they are pestering us to cook homemade now.

The girls also have their own interesting ideas of what constitutes good food, although most of them are either desserts, sound inedible, or both.

Thankfully, most veggies go down really well, although youngest has a love-hate relationship with broccoli. Eldest has a bizarre affair with red kidney beans (to the point where she’ll grab an unopened can and start kissing it).

So I’m happy to call food pretty much what it is, without getting hung up on whether it’s authentic or not. The only authenticity I’m bothered about is where the food comes from and what’s in it, which is why most of our ingredients are as unprocessed as possible.

If I do make a paella (which probably won’t be a seafood one just yet) I won’t be inviting any of Jamie Oliver’s critics around for a sample. I already have two Masterchef/GBBO-inspired foodies sitting at my dinner table, thanks.