Twittering birds. Aside from the whirring of a Cuisinart or the banging of pots, that's the loudest noise you'll hear on Jamie Oliver's cozy new series, Jamie at Home (Saturdays at 9:30 am/ET, Food Network). The quiet chirping begins and ends segments, and helps set the mood for a show that dispenses with catchphrases, guests and gimmicks and instead features the 32-year-old British cook — first introduced to U.S. audiences in 2000 as the Naked Chef — using vegetables and fruits plucked from his bountiful 13-acre organic home garden in Essex, England.
There's an aura of spontaneity about the series. ("I haven't burnt [it]. Honestly," he assures us as the room fogs with smoke when dripping fruit juice caramelizes on the bottom of the oven while he's making a rustic blackberry-and-apple pie.) That's because Jamie at Home was shot on location in his garden and kitchen.
During production, Oliver says, he woke up every morning, stumbled outdoors and let Mother Nature dictate the day's ingredients. "This was pretty off-the-cuff," he admits. "We'd sort of pencil in what we might be cooking that day, but only half of it stuck because things were growing bigger, smaller... some things didn't work. TV, as I know it, has always been very preproduced and organized. But this was a bit more ducking and diving."
To understand the down-to-earth vibe of Jamie at Home, one need only think of it as a reaction to the past six years of Oliver's career. He describes the 2002 series Jamie's Kitchen, in which cameras tracked his struggle to train underprivileged teenagers to cook and ultimately run a restaurant, as "Super Size Me filmy documentary observational."
Three years later, on the award-winning Jamie's School Dinners, Oliver's quest was to take mushy, gray school-cafeteria food in England and show how, for the same price, children could be served healthier, better-tasting meals. After that, "I was done, really," says Oliver, who found his thoughts turning from hard-charging social reform to the cozy pleasures of puttering in the garden of the house he shares with his wife, Jools, and their two kids, Poppy Honey, 5, and Daisy Boo, 4.
But when he proposed his latest idea to Channel 4, the network that's been airing his series since The Naked Chef, their initial reaction was disinterest. "It was too simple for them," says Oliver, who instead helped bankroll two seasons — 26 episodes — and, for good measure, hired a photographer and simultaneously pieced together a companion cookbook, Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life (Hyperion, Nov. 1, 2008).
In fall 2006, Oliver flew to a TV festival in Cannes and offered Jamie at Home to the world, and the show was bought by broadcasters in more than 40 countries. "Jamie sent us this series and, honestly, we looked at two or three episodes and knew it was for our viewers," says Bob Tuschman, senior vice president of the Food Network. "The food that he makes is so inventive but really simple and easy to re-create at home."
The universal appeal of Jamie at Home isn't hard to decipher: Maybe we could all be that happy young chef, growing and cooking our own organic food. "I didn't have a broadcaster, so we just did what felt right — well-made, well-shot, cute little stories about potatoes or onions or salads. It was just relaxing," says Oliver, with an almost dreamy sound in his voice. "I was at home, and in many ways it felt so intimate and personal."
Check out tasty clips of Jamie Oliver doing his thing in our Online Video Guide.
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