Field Report:
Jamie Oliver Book Signing
Barnes and Noble, Union Square, NYC

Diana, SuSu, Wraith6
Illustrated with photographs by Wraith6

The Barnes & Noble staff made several threats about people not being allowed to hold seats for others from about 6:45pm, but they never made good on them. That was rather annoying. Also annoying was that at 7:15pm, Jamie Oliver was still not there for a 7:00pm starting time. At last, the little self-important B&N crowdbitch went forward and explained, "Jamie is delayed in traffic, he's on 14th St... we don't know where on 14th St., but he should be only a few more minutes." They played crowd control music, and suddenly from the back there was an ebullient, "Hello, darlings!"

An annoying little posse of photographers took a series of photos, flashbulbs popping. Even though the regulations plainly stated, No flash photography, the pros' behavior ends up causing everyone to start snapping pics fast and furious. The crowd control bitches don't do a good job.

But Jamie Oliver was the same as he is on his programs: affable, garrulous, happy, loopy from lack of sleep ... he was there to sell books, timed with the Food Network presentation of Jamie's Kitchen. He was taller than I thought -- his scruffiness on television (which would suit the Fab5 of Queer Eye fame, by the way) makes him seem shorter and younger. He must be about 30 now, but still seems like the happy 23 year old who first took the UK airwaves by storm as The Naked Chef. The crowd forgave all the annoyances, and when he said he'd take questions, the attendees were respectful and the questions weren't TOO stupid, though a bit nosey ...

    Questions asked:

  1. Why do you keep changing the name of the series? Why not stay with the "Naked Chef"? What other shows are coming up?
    "Americans can't understand this," he smiled, "it's the way you do telly ... in the UK, the programs don't go forever." His first series of The Naked Chef was only 6 shows, then 8, then another 8. "I think the audience in Britain gets bored ... I get bored with it, too." He has done five shows: The Naked Chef, Pukka Tukka, Happy Days, Live, Oliver's Twist, and Jamie's Kitchen. As for what the future holds, "I really don't know, to be honest."

  2. What made you want to go through with the charitable, non-profit concept for "Fifteen" and what did you learn?
    "Seven years ago, when I was flush with success, I had this crazy, stupid idea. My father didn't want me to do it, Jools didn't want me to do it, my accountant didn't want me to do it, my business manager didn't want me to do it ... and they were right about it! But seeing the end product now, I don't regret it." But when he said it, you could see the accumulated stresses of the past years just beneath the cheerful surface. The project had a starting cost of 650,000 pounds, and to date, the costs are up to two million pounds!

    "My dream was to select 15 kids every six months and train them up as chefs." As for what he learned, "I thought they'd all be robots and do as I told them and be grateful for the chance. But they weren't, and I had to learn they're individuals with their own problems and their own lives. I also hated the TV crew there, but I realized to capture what was going on, it didn't matter if the crew was there or not. And the crew felt responsible for the growth of the kids, too." He also said the timing was not exactly perfect, "Jools got pregnant as we were gearing up. It wasn't my fault, it just happened." I don't think he realized what he'd said even when the audience broke out in hysterical laughter! He pointed out that he always had the unconditional support of his family, his father made him toe the line, and he never thought he was luckier than anyone else for the experience. But after the events of Jamie's Kitchen, he learned that he was indeed extremely fortunate.

  3. (Warning, stupid question...) I don't like mint or cilantro, what else should I use?
    Jamie was aghast at this one. "Don't give up on mint ... please, there are so many different types of mint: peppermint ... and pineapple mint ... spearmint ..." The audience was trying hard not to pop with laughter at this point. "As for cilantro, well ... not everyone like it, it's too fresh. But there are other herbs: basil, parsley, thyme, tarragon, there are so many, there must be some you like! But just grill a bit of meat plainly, then chop rosemary or sage on it ... it will make a world of difference."

  4. (Another stupid question) What are your favorite New York City restaurants?
    Anyone who's in the celebrity industry knows that when someone of Jamie Oliver's calibre is shuttled all over the place, there is no time to try out restaurants or do more than a cursory pick over a plate of food. But he rattled off a standard list of "big name" places: Jean-George's at Trump Tower, Nobu ... he had to ask the handler "What's good?" He simply doesn't have the time to be normal. However, he did reveal that he plans on moving to New York in 2005 for six months, and hopes to absorb the place better, and maybe do some shows and such.

  5. (More stupid questions ...) When is Scarlet Division (Jamie's band, in which he was the drummer) coming to New York?
    He was baffled by this one, "We broke up two years ago ..."

  6. (From a child) Do you plan to write a children's cookbook?
    "Give us a bit of time, mate! When my kids are old enough to get into it ... I think I need to wait for them to grow into it a bit, right?"
Jamie went on to explain he hopes to franchise "Fifteen" in the US, and hopes to meet the right people and get some backers for a "Fifteen NYC" someday. No one jumped at the opportunity, but you could see some people thinking seriously about the idea.

Before he started signing books, he introduced his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, who is often featured on his shows. Gennaro was his first mentor in London, and they have such affection for one another, and not surprisingly, there was Chef Contaldo at the signing. We ran up to him to get his signature in our books, before we got on line to get Jamie's; when Jamie opened my book, he saw Gennaro's signature and declared, "Good girl!" Girl??? What a whippersnapper he is! But a lovable one, even if he playfully tossed the signed book at me and banged my finger ...

Susu had a huge stack of books for him to sign. He was very tired, having woken up before his Morning Show appearance before 4 a.m. ... but he seemed to wake up in surprise when she told him, "I love Gennaro more than I love you, sorry." Jamie replied, without skipping a beat, "I don't blame you ... I love him more than I love myself, as well." They ended up having a little conversation about humility ... leave it to the cooking geek to have a real-life level conversation with a celeb chef ...

Well, SuSu can have Gennaro. I'll take a Jamie-induced injury!

(By the way, like the mural behind Jamie? It's an enlarged etching from Herman Melville's Moby Dick -- seafood eats chef???)

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