The Naked Chef exposed

Jamie Oliver's endorsement of garden produce is marred by hypocrisy

<strong>Jamie at Home</strong

Jamie Oliver has gone back to basics. His new series is filmed at his place in Essex, which looks like a property that Kirstie and Phil of Location, Location, Location would show only to someone seriously loaded: someone, in fact, who had a nice little earner in the form of a series of commercials for Sainsbury's. He has four kitchens inside, plus this season's must-have: a wood-fired oven in the garden. Ah, yes - the garden. This is the star of the series, because it's here that Jamie grows the fruit and veg he is going to cook. In this task, he is helped by his gardener, Brian, who, with his shaggy hair and placid manner, reminds me of Yoffy, the hippie who presented Fingerbobs in the Seventies.

In the first programme, Jamie offered Brian a refreshing cup of consommé. "You're experimenting on me again!" smiled Brian, like a grateful druggy who'd just been passed a particularly fine joint. Jamie and Brian love getting high together, only their hit of choice is something juicy from the greenhouse. You should hear them talk tomato varieties. They sound like a right pair of stoners.

The format of Jamie at Home, which is strangely old-fashioned, is supposed to tell us that he means business: "Just cook, will you?" But I suspect it has just as much to do with his past few shows - such as Jamie's School Dinners, in which he campaigned to rid the nation of Turkey Twizzlers - having been so exhausting. For this series, all he had to do was roll out of bed, wander into the garden, pick the ingredients, and cook them. (Ta-dah! as we cooks like to say.) Jamie's verbal tics are as annoying as ever - "Bosh, bosh!" being the one that most makes me want to set about him with my good copper pan - but the recipes, if you can call them that, are perfectly decent. Here's a tomato salad, which can also be a salsa (add coriander) or a pasta sauce (heat and, er, add pasta). Nothing is too onerous because Jamie understands that his audience crucially lacks time and kitchen skills. The only trouble is that, in order to get your hands on as many breeds of tomato as this, you'd basically have to fly to New York so you could visit the über-posh SoHo deli Dean & DeLuca (this wouldn't be so bad: you could pick up some malted milk balls while you were at it).

Do I sound snippy? Well, I feel snippy. What Jamie tried to do in the war on obesity was great, and we're all grateful. But the fact that he persists in working for Sainsbury's can't be pushed aside. Supermarkets are the enemy of choice and fairness, of high streets and farmers - whatever Oliver says about how he persuaded the chain to sell lemon thyme. It's breathtaking to see someone compartmentalise to this degree. One minute, he's extolling the virtues of Sainsbury's strawberries; the next he's insisting that anyone with a trowel and a terracotta pot can - and should - grow their own. It's not a case of "do what I say, not what I do"; it's a case of "do what I say and do what I do, and if the two are different, too bad". Oh, well. If we must be the nation that fetishises food while mostly refusing to cook at all, at least let us fetishise it on the grounds that it grew nearby and is in season.

Yet Jamie's muddle is as nothing to the car crash of a programme that follows it. Cook Yourself Thin is presented by four girls who are dressed as if en route to a Duran Duran concert. They teach fat women who eat too much pizza and chocolate to cook "naughty" foods in a "good" way.

I don't believe in naughty foods; I believe in portion control and exercise. Jamie Oliver might be a hypocrite, but he isn't in the business of making disingenuous (and foul!) "substitutions". Spaghetti alla carbonara is made with eggs, bacon and cheese: "Bosh, bosh, bosh!" as he would say. What does crème fraîche have to do with it? Nothing, you bubbleheads. Eat it, or don't eat it. But faff about with it, and you destroy it.

Pick of the week

Grumpy Old Women
10 August, 10pm, BBC2
Germaine Greer, Janet Street-Porter et al grumble about modern life.

India With Sanjeev Bhaskar
13 August, 9pm, BBC2
Comedian continues emotional return to family's homeland.

Ann Widdecombe v Prostitution
15 August, 10pm, ITV1
Widdecombe confronts prostitutes and pimps on the streets of London.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix