On Friday Ward and I had a night out – we had tickets to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall in Toronto!
Last November, shortly after we moved into our new place in the city, we’d gone to see Jamie at Roy Thomson Hall. I never got around to blogging about it, but Jamie was funny, articulate and most impressively, he managed to make us feel like we were sitting in his living room, chatting away.
This year’s venue, Massey Hall, has a cozier feel than Roy Thomson, and once again Jamie Oliver worked his magic. He’s such a wonderful speaker, and had the audience laughing several times. I forgot to be a good little blogger throughout the first half of the event, but halfway through, I came to my senses, whipped out my notebook, and began jotting down notes.
So yeah, this post is mostly about what second half of the program, which was the Q&A portion.
A very bad picture of Jamie on stage (taken from the nosebleed section …)
Last year we purchased pretty good seats, but this year we decided to be thrifty and chose the centre gallery seats. Very high up, but the sound was fantastic. And considering we each received a complimentary copy of Jamie’s latest cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, it was quite a good deal.
(Although Ward wasn’t as thrilled as I was. He’s much taller than I am, and the centre gallery seats at Massey Hall don’t give you much leg room. He kept looking longingly at the newer, roomier seats in the side gallery one level below us …)
Jamie started the evening’s chat with Matt Galloway (host of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning) by going off on a tangent about his public school days, where he was one of seven or eight boys who were labelled “special needs” (Jamie is dyslexic). He had us laughing from the start, with his imitation of the teacher who was in charge of the special needs class, and how he and the other boys in the class got their revenge on the other boys by shooting spitballs at the students sitting below them in the library.
His point, from what I can remember, is that he never did well at school, but cooking saved him.
Other highlights from the first half of the program: Jamie sang us a few bars of the song the boys at school used to sing about the special needs kids. It was along the lines of “Special needs, special needs” sung to the tune of “Let It Be”. (He regaled us with a few other bars of song a little later, and he didn’t sound half bad.)
He also talked about how working on the school lunch program in London made him realize how people, even very bright people, don’t deal very well with change.
Moving on to the second half of the program, in which he answered questions from the audience (people got to write their questions down on cards which were then collected and brought to stage) but also occasionally went off on some delightful tangents:
On what he would choose as his last meal: The original question was what was the best meal he’s ever had. He didn’t want to answer this one; it was just too hard because he’s had so many fabulous meals. Matt Galloway rephrased it as a last meal question. Jamie said it would have to be his mom’s roast dinner, because food isn’t just the taste, it’s the memories as well. His mom’s a good cook, but it’s all the memories that are tied into her roast dinners that would make him choose it as his last meal.
On romantic meals: Jamie said he’s not very good at romantic stuff at all. But probably no noodles or spaghetti – too difficult to eat without wearing some of it.
On rude veggies: This was one of the tangents. Jamie talked about how the machines that vegetable producers use aren’t capable of getting rid of malformed vegetables, so people are actually hired to scan the vegetables and pick out the ones which have extra bits sticking out of them (the point being the extra bits usually look like various parts of the male and female anatomy). And one of the things he’s doing is bringing back “bagged rude veg”, because rude veggies always make people laugh and have fun at the dinner table. People get a kick out of serving rude vegetables. Especially to their mother-in-laws.
On family life: His kids are totally not impressed with him, and whenever they see someone who treats him like he’s somebody, they’re in shock.
On possibly opening up a restaurant in Toronto: There aren’t any plans in the works, but if he did, he thinks Torontonians would enjoy a Jamie’s Italian: great food, good prices. He also talked about his new restaurant in Montreal, Maison Publique, which he and Montreal chef Derek Dammann opened earlier this month. One of the things Jamie wanted was for the restaurant, which serves British pub fare, to be accessible. (I gather DNA, which was chef Dammann’s previous restaurant in Montreal, was on the high-end side.)
On mentoring: You can either die of jealousy when your protegé gets better than you – and some of them will, whether it’s because of talent or because they have a passion for a specific niche - or you can be supportive and continue to help them grow.
On New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban of large sugary sodas: A brave man, showing brave leadership.
Jamie’s advice to chef Susur Lee, who is reforming school lunches in Toronto: Line up long term agreement amongst the people in government. And say “no” to the No Salt people, because when you’ve been giving kids 600 mgs of sodium, you can’t just take it all away like that. You need to give the kids flavour and that does include some salt.
On the most underrated British food: Desserts. Jamie talked about his newest show, Food Fight Club, in which Britain goes head to head with other countries in themed culinary battles. They took desserts to Italy; Britain’s hot desserts were pitted against Italy’s cold desserts. In all the other countries, the judging panel was made up of international judges. In Italy, they were told there would be no international judges; the Italians would do the judging themselves! Naturally, Jamie said, after being flabbergasted by this new wrinkle, they wrote it into the storyline, making for quite a good show.
His guilty food pleasure: Chiles. He loves all kinds of chiles. He told a story about playing a trick on one of his daughters with apples and – you guessed it – chiles.
On people who inspire him: A lot of people inspire him. He named two for us: Paul Smith, the fashion designer, who used to come regularly to the River Café when Jamie was cooking there. Jamie didn’t know who he was, but Smith would always ask to talk to him after dinner. One time, Jamie told Smith that he’d just bought a new suit, a rather nice one by Paul Smith. Smith said, “I’m Paul Smith.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “Yes, I am.” Jamie said, “No you’re not.” Smith said, “But I am.” Jamie, who still thought Smith was putting him on, said, “Show me your driver’s licence.” Which was when he realized it really was Paul Smith! He also talked about Richard Curtis, known for his romantic comedies, including Notting Hill and Love Actually. Curtis is also the founder of Comic Relief in the UK, which does a tremendous lot of good.
It was such a great talk and like last year, the time passed by in a flash. I’d seen on Twitter earlier that day that Jamie had just done a presentation in the morning in Pittsburgh, so he must have been quite tired since he would have had to fly from Pittsburgh to Toronto, and then be ready for the Massey Hall event that very night. But he’s such a great speaker and he made it all seem effortless.
Last night Ward made Early Autumn Cornish Pasties from our new Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain cookbook; they were delicious. Since we each got a copy of the cookbook, I gave my copy to my sister Dawn. And hopefully she, too, will cook things for me out of it!