TV Party: 'Jamie Cooks Italy' on Channel 4

In which the TV chef is outshone by Italian home cooks.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
October 5, 2018, 11:42am
All screenshots via Channel 4

Welcome to TV Party, VICE's weekly TV column, brought to you by resident sad-act, me, Lauren O’Neill, where I basically just talk for a bit about the best (or worst) thing on telly this week. Best enjoyed with a plate of your favourite breaded item and an open mind. Contains spoilers, obvs. This week: ‘Jamie Cooks Italy.’

Yeah, no. I'm only human. My willpower will only stretch so far. You cannot sensibly expect me to start writing a column about television while a Jamie Oliver cooking programme is airing and not expect me to write about it at length within the first month. I have held off as long as possible; you might hope that I'm better than this, but honestly I am here to tell you that your hope is wasted on me – I don’t deserve it.

There is only one thing I love more in this world than eating, and that is eating while I scream at the television while Jamie Oliver bastardises a decades-old Italian family recipe by putting yoghurt in it.

*Seinfeld voice* What's the deal with Jamie Cooks Italy?

Jamie Oliver – jerk appropriator, child-eater and owner of failing restaurant chain Jamie's Italian – has fucked off to Italy to dick about on a moped, steal a load of long-held family recipes and then cook Tesco Finest versions of them either a) in his model kitchen, or b) outside, because Jamie believes it is "rustic" and will not remove himself from the table in the Channel 4 production offices, atop which he is repeatedly bellowing "RUSTIC" until his demands for al fresco TV cheffing are met. Travelling around the great country of Italy, he visits different regions, does Facebook mum stuff (like going "I'm having a moment" while eating some gnocchi), cooks versions of various delicacies and inevitably spoils them by insisting on drizzling them with "rocket pesto".

Who's even in it?

I must be honest: the real emotional crux of this column is caused by this question. Yes, Jamie Cooks Italy is mostly about Jamie Oliver razzing around Italy, speaking terrible Italian, trying forkfuls of food, pulling a cum-face and going: "THAT. IS. [ADJECTIVE]." But it’s also about his mentor Gennaro Contaldo, who accompanies him (and for whom I harbour lots of affection, considering his close friendship with the late, great GOAT Antonio Carluccio, with whom he presented BBC2’s Two Greedy Italians, which was as close to a warm, joyful bowl of pasta as a TV programme can get), and it's also about the women who introduce Jamie to their time-honoured regional recipes.

The conceit of the show is that Jamie and Gennaro go around the country visiting Italian mums and nans (mamas, nonnas) in their home kitchen, so they can show them how cooking is really done.


And well, this is where I fall into some trouble. I want to laugh at Jamie’s idiot expressions and the way the man cannot seemingly go one earth day without doing something confusing with yoghurt. But predictably, the emotional pull of the tiny, knowledgeable nonnas has absolutely worked a treat on me. They’re wise, and sweet, and remind me of childhood memories of my own nonna – a born Neapolitan cook with a terrible temper – who would sew up thin rolls of beef and stew them in sharp velvety red sauce, just as one of Jamie’s teachers in one episode uses a needle and thread to seal flavour into her squid.

I am ashamed to say that Jamie Cooks Italy made me, erm, *whisper it* cry, though, in my defence, if you've ever enjoyed watching your mother or grandmother cook – been told to get out of the way as they knead and stir and season with a hardy type of love – it’ll probably do you in as well.

OK fine – but is it any good?

Annoyingly, it is quite, though I will say that's basically entirely down to the nonnas, the astonishing food they make (make sure you’ve got snacks while you watch otherwise your mouth involuntarily watering might become a problem) and their attitude towards Jamie. He’s frequently scolded for shaping gnocchi incorrectly, or chopping too thick, or just being in the way, which is, obviously, satisfying to watch, especially because they’ve obviously got no clue who he is.

Less good, however, are the bits where Jamie is left to his own devices to cook – he tends to make a Jamie’s Italian-ified (i.e. shitter and less properly authentic) version of whatever he’s just been shown by the nonnas and mamas, whose food always looks much more delicious and less complicated. Put together, the two segments make quite a good pair: one bit for feeling warmed and nourished by the nonnas, another for hurling insults at Jamie Oliver while he calls a cod "sexy" or something.

From Emmerdale to shagging, how mum friendly is it?

What does your mum like most? Corrie? Your nan? Finding a plate that hasn’t been washed up, shouting "I DIDN’T RAISE YOU LOT LIKE THIS" and then going in a mood? Whatever it is, however much she likes it: that’s how much she’ll probably like Jamie Cooks Italy ("He’s clever isn’t he. There’s just less fat in it with the yoghurt"), because if anyone is Jamie Oliver’s target audience, it is mums. Outside of the core viewership of mums, it’s pretty good for when you’re feeling existential and need to be reminded that there’s good in the world, though I’d skip the Jamie-only bits if that’s your vibe.

Is it likely to cause a Twitter shitstorm?

Following his woeful "jerk rice" product rollout, Jamie’s rightfully on thin ice in the world of social media – he should be eternally grateful to the nonnas for grabbing him back a bit of goodwill here.

Any last words?

This is an extremely good format, and my only wish for it is that it eventually becomes the Nonnas Cook Italy show I personally deserve. For now, watch with a big bowl of pasta and your most savage friend, and drink whenever Jamie's terrible Italian accent comes out.