Jamie’s Kitchen

Tuesday, November 19, 2002 by

Now in episode three of a five part series, Jamie’s Kitchen is turning out to be a very different animal than first expected.

I would imagine that for most people their initial impression of a series called Jamie’s Kitchen would be yet another cookery programme in the Naked Chef vein, with Jamie Oliver becoming even more hideously over-exposed than he already is.

But of course that is not what this project is about. Jamie Oliver is, for whatever reason, opening a new restaurant in London, the kitchen of which will be staffed by 15 “unemployed, and under-priviledged” young people who will complete several years worth of culinary training in under a year. And this programme is focusing mainly on the fortunes of the trainees.

Although in the background there are vague hints that the redevelopment costs for the restaurant are spiralling out of control, and Jamie’s home and office are on the line now (in true Channel 4 property programme style) we see very little of this aspect of the development. Similarly although we are aware of his home situation, with the recent birth of his daughter, and obvious strain on his relationship with his wife, there are only snippets of these difficulties, intended to highlight his commitment to the project on a very personal level.

So the majority of our time is spent with the trainees from initial interview, through selection, and now into training. But this programme manages to confound, and in the end I am not sure how enjoyable I find the viewing.

At the crudest level, particularly at the start, you could summarise this as Fame Academy meets Pop Idol meets catering college (even down to separating the hopeful into different rooms before telling them who had “won” a place on the course). Yet, for me, the worrying aspect of this was that this was more about reality than a bunch of kids with ambitions to be famous. These were a bunch of young unemployed people, many of whom have had significant difficulties through school, for various reasons. And this unease has grown with every episode, as we become more aware of what this means for the trainees.

Both this week, and last to some extent, has focused on getting the trainees through their NVQ Level 1, the most basic qualification they need to achieve before progressing. What appeared to shock everybody involved was the significant truancy levels with some trainees barely turning up half the time. At times this made very uncomfortable viewing as this group of middle-class people verged into “how could they do this to us after all we’ve done for them” territory.

I feel that the programme significantly fails to portray this in a balanced way, and ends up almost sanctifying these wonderful people who are putting so much into the project, only for these ungrateful people not to turn up. Thus we had footage of Jamie in the kitchens at 2am with the bakery shift, and hints of just how pleased his wife is with this, counteracted by the voice-over tellling us how one of the most persistent non-attenders has not bothered to turn up for any shifts at all.

There is no exploration of any of the difficulties these people might have in taking this chance that has been offered to them – I don’t profess to understand, but neither is this programme helping me to do that. Only once, in last week’s episode, did we get any hint of how important this was to one of the young men who was displaying some behavioural problems. After telling the camera about his record 126 exclusions from school without being expelled, he was asked what failing this course would mean to him. He replied that he “I’d think that I’m shit”. This feels like a last chance for this young man to feel that he is good at something and can maybe achieve something in his life.

Newspaper reviews have commented how Jamie missed his Social Work calling, as he connects with these young people and tries to support them through this, and to his credit, none of them have totally dropped out, he has managed to get the suspended young man back on the course, and most of them have passed their NVQ Level 1 – just.

I probably will keep watching, if nothing else, because I would like it to succeed. If it does, this will be, for me, a genuinely feel-good programme. But if the project fails, Jamie’s Kitchen could leave a bad taste in the mouth.


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