From couch to kitchen: celeb chefs who inspire

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      At our place, we watch a fair number of food shows, but with most it’s meh, why bother? Such as with—the man and I concurred—Heston Blumenthal’s roast chicken, featured during a recent episode of In Search of Perfection. A chicken that undergoes more hot and cold baths, leisurely cooking, and final gilding than a West Van matron at a spa was, we figured, just too much hard work.

      On the other hand, Jamie Oliver’s current Jamie at Home series propels the two of us into the kitchen with dishes like roasted pumpkin tossed with torn-apart roast duck and one of those twangy (Oliver’s word) lime-mint-cilantro-y Asian dressings. There’s no question that some celeb chefs motivate us to get off the sofa and others don’t.

      Jenna Chow from CBC Radio One confesses over a cup of tea that at one time in her life, she subsisted on takeout for six months. Moving to a suite with a gas stove got her going with cooking, while a stint at Citytv and proximity to the CityCooks show’s cookbook library fanned the flames. Now, says Chow, “I try to cook every night.”

      Like most Food Network viewers, Chow plays faves. Besides sharing my passion for Jamie at Home, she finds Los Angeles chef and caterer Giada De Laurentiis inspirational. “I keep a pad of paper and a pen next to me [when watching the show]. I made a whole meal from one of her shows,” Chow says. Onion soup preceded mint-and-pea purée over tofu (a vegetarian alternative standing in for the fish De Laurentiis used), and the meal concluded with “orange and chocolate biscuits with cornmeal in them”. Chow says De Laurentiis’s recipes use fresh ingredients, “keep it simple, and are a lot more vegetarian friendly.”¦She makes it look like good home cooking. It’s something you can do.”

      On the other hand, Chow says, “Rachael Ray drives me crazy. I don’t like the way she says the EVOO [extra-virgin olive oil] thing”¦and she yells a lot.” She dislikes Iron Chef—“There’s too much going on”—and while she’s wowed by the look of Anna Olson’s desserts, she finds the cook herself boring.

      “Reading [also] makes me cook,” Chow says. The first section in Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Penguin, 2007) inspired her to hunt down a recipe for authentic pizza. Taras Grescoe’s The Devil’s Picnic: Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit (HarperCollins, 2007) propelled her to go and look for a good absinthe, and to Les Amis du Fromage in search of sublimely stinky Epoisses—but she didn’t buy it: “It smelled kind of barn-y.”

      Citing James Barber’s Ginger Tea Makes Friends (Raincoast, 2000) as an early influence, architect Alan James has always cooked. But he admits that “being married to someone who’s produced a number of cookbooks [food writer turned yoga instructor Eve Johnson] means she did the majority” in the past. These days, the couple cooks together.

      One evening, James remembers, he collapsed in front of the TV to find “a guy driving along in a Volkswagen van through the Italian countryside”. Unaware of what he was watching, James hung in for the subsequent chatting to people and cooking: “I liked”¦[the host’s] approach of using the local food. I like the simplicity and directness of it.” Score another devotee for Jamie Oliver.

      James recounts a recent dish from Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy, swordfish with a sauce that’s “just lemon juice, olive oil; seasoned with salt and pepper, mint, and oregano, and little slices of garlic.”¦It’s dead simple, and it tastes so great.”¦Everything you tackle [from Oliver] is so rewarding.”

      Interior-design student Kelly Smith says the combination of living on her own and having pots, pans, and other equipment sourced by roommate Ashley Taje from her former job at a cookware store encouraged them to make their own meals, often inspired by the TV show, cookbooks, and magazines of Rachael Ray.

      “She’s really quick and she’s not a chef; she’s just a girl who cooks. She does things the simplest way. I cook mostly her 30-minute meals,” says Smith, who also likes Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. “She’s not really concerned about fat content. She puts butter in things, and whole milk. It’s a little bit fancier than Rachael Ray’s style, but she makes it sound easy.”

      Smith is yet another Jamie Oliver advocate, especially of his “flavour shaker” device, which Smith recently used to smush sage, garlic, and olive oil to spread over pork. But she has a valid reason, she thinks, for not watching De Laurentiis: “She’s too thin,” says Smith, herself a size four. “You don’t trust her.”