Judge Brett Cullum thinks a "Naked Chef" should be more scared of knives.
"Don't cry sweetheart. I'm not bollocking you. I'm giving you one last
Jamie Oliver is known as "The Naked Chef," a British cook who keeps his clothes on but who is a big fan of natural or "naked" food (devotees of The Food Network know exactly who I am talking about). Jamie's Kitchen is a chance to see the chef raw, and somewhat unfiltered. It's a seven episode reality series that aired in part on The Food Network, which aired the first five episodes. Jamie takes fifteen unemployed London youths and tries to turn them into chefs, to work in his new London restaurant called, appropriately, Fifteen. So the master chef has fifteen surly new apprentices who have never cooked or worked, he's opening a very expensive restaurant that he will staff with his protégés, he's got a baby on the way, and he still has to make appearances and run his business as usual. What could possibly go wrong? Basically everything. Will the whole enterprise go "tits up," or will Jamie succeed as he has in everything he's done before?
Being a chef is probably the most dangerous and thankless profession I can think of. You are surrounded by knives, hot oil, flames, and tons of things that could maim or kill you at any moment. Add to that the fact that most kitchens are run by maniacal control freaks in white hats, and that most restaurant customers are complaining idiots who never seem to be satisfied. You've got to be brave and a freakish perfectionist to ever want to pursue a career like this. And cooking for a fancy restaurant? Even worse than your run-of-the-mill line cook job. The pressure is always on, and it never lets up. Nowhere is this more evident than in this show.
Jamie's Kitchen is filled with fifteen Londoners who are basically screwed by life in some way or another, who are given the chance to be a chef under Jamie's tutelage. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, and one many people would chop off fingers to get (some even their own digits). Jamie picks his candidates from a pool of thousands based solely on a couple of tests and some video interviews. The kids selected are ecstatic at first, but then the reality sets in that they have one year to become something special. They have to learn all the basics. We get to see their horrified looks as they realize how tedious this is going to be after their first weeks in class are spent chopping for hours on end. The drama in the show comes from watching them slowly sink or swim under all the pressure. Sometimes they rise to the challenge, and sometimes they don't even bother to show up. It's amazing how some people can throw away a big opportunity all on their own. Jamie Oliver himself becomes a source of drama as we see his judgment questioned, his family balk at the time he puts in, and his personal investment threatened by his candidates' lack of expertise. Face it—these people could kill someone with some misprepared food, let alone produce five star cuisine that anyone would pay a pretty pound for.
Jamie's Kitchen is something most reality shows are not—smart and funny. Ironically, so much of reality programming is full of strange silly quests for love or money that the genre rarely enters the real world. Yet here's a show where fifteen kids are learning a set of skills that could set them up for a much better life. And there are no judges telling them to "go home"—rather, the most dangerous thing is they may eliminate themselves by quitting. None of the drama in the show feels forced, there are no surprise twists, and it's completely absorbing and entertaining. I'm no chef (believe me), but Jamie's Kitchen is an inspiring story about trying to beat the odds, and doing some good for people along the way. It's what reality TV should be.
If you saw the series on The Food Network you missed a lot. First off, Jamie Oliver is a foul-mouthed little man whose language was often bleeped—or worse, cut out—from what aired on the cable network. His unemployed cadre of chefs-in-training curse like sailors as well, so you also missed their colorful comments on cable. This two-disc set features the entire series unedited. You also get two follow-up episodes that were not aired in broadcast, which provides more closure to the story of the kids and Jamie. The transfers are, for the most part, amazingly well done. Like most reality programs, the film elements vary a little scene to scene, but on the whole it's crystal clear with only minimal digital artifacts. Most prominent is the shimmering, especially with the chef hats, many of which are an intense plaid. The two channel stereo mix is fine—the series is all about dialogue, so it's a good fit for the show. Other than the inclusion of the two extra follow-up episodes, there are no extras. I would have liked some more insight into the production, but the series explains itself so well that the lack of additional content is not felt. The one area that it does feel like it falls short is that it could have used some recipes. The dishes the students make are often striking, and I wish I could try to duplicate them in my own kitchen. (Or force someone else to try, since I burn water.)
Anyone who is considering attending a culinary college should consider this series mandatory viewing. Rarely do you get to see what goes on in a cooking school and what it's like to open a restaurant so vividly. For the rest of us, it's an entertaining, uplifting show that makes for a great rental. If you're a fan of Jamie Oliver you definitely need to take the leap and purchase the set, since this is undiluted, up-close personal time with "The Naked Chef." Jamie's Kitchen is a great series, and it's given a suitably well done DVD. The seven episodes fly by, and it's all over before you realize it. I just wish I could get seconds!
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