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Chef turns attention to cooking smart

New book focuses on big flavours, low cost

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TORONTO -- Jamie Oliver didn't plan to write a cookbook on money-saving meals but was drawn to the project through countless requests via his website and other social media for "really affordable, delicious, tasty food."

In fact, earlier this year the celeb U.K. chef shelved what he calls "one of the most beautiful books I think I've ever written" to focus on Save With Jamie, a new cookbook and TV series being shown Sunday mornings on Food Network Canada that teaches people how to shop smart, cook cleverly and waste less.

"I convinced my publisher to allow me to just literally for five months live, breathe and go through the kind of inventory in your average supermarket and look at what was available and then to write recipes that were exciting and dynamic and tasty but by default were really economical and working out per portion a fraction of the price of a junk food take-away," he said during a visit to Toronto.

In a telephone interview ahead of a round-table discussion with various media outlets in Chatelaine magazine's kitchens, Oliver said home cooks can save a lot of money making recipes from the book, published by HarperCollins.

"They're not just economical dishes that are delicious but also looking at how to plan your week better, how to cut waste, how to look at leftovers in a completely different pair of eyes."

The married father of four laments the amount of food thrown out by consumers.

"Certainly in Britain -- it's probably very similar in Canada -- the average Brit wastes 40 per cent of everything they buy. That's a load of money to be saved right there."

For the book -- his 15th -- Oliver and his team came up with 120 meals and put them together in six categories: vegetable, chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish. There are plenty of tips about stocking a kitchen with everything needed in terms of ingredients and supplies to help with cooking from scratch.

Oliver offers advice on shopping wisely, like getting to know your local grocer, butcher, fishmonger and market, as well as how to stretch ingredients further and use them up. Calories and nutritional information are provided too.

"The public are really busy and they want good clear information in nice, bite-sized chunks and I really try to give them that."

He adds an international flavour, inspired by "beautiful food from around the world."

"I quite like some of the flavours and techniques from Persia and that part of the world, which is really exciting at the moment," he said.

"And then obviously with this particular book, what I did was buy everything that was quite good value per kilo and put it in a room, and then like, 'Right, that's my pantry, let's cook some great food' and that's what we did."

Once he comes up with a recipe, it's tested about six times by members of his food team and then sent out to strangers at all different levels of cooking expertise for more testing.

"I think the testing is the most important bit, in a way," he said. "When the public are going and spending their hard-earned money on ingredients they want the recipe to work and I'm very, very conscious of that."

Oliver, 38, pointed to Italians as being "the masters of making the most delicious food that happens to be affordable," adding, "the best food I've ever had in my life has always been meals that are really cheap -- comfort food but also clever, technique-based cooking that gives you wonderful flavours and textures."

Through his Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, established after he left the British food show The Naked Chef, he works to improve people's lives and well-being through food knowledge and cooking skills, and has campaigned for better school lunches.

"I think the general sort of consensus is we need our kids coming out of school knowing about food, where it comes from and how it affects their body, and most importantly, having fun with it, enjoying putting stuff together and doing that thing that they call cooking.

"What you don't want is millions of kids coming out of school every year that haven't got a clue because we know what that ends up in and that's diet-related disease."

Last month, Sobeys teamed with Oliver to launch Better Food for All branding. He's working with the retailer to provide weekly recipes and cooking tips online and in stores.

Oliver has played a role in helping Sobeys be the first retailer in North America to offer chicken, pork and beef that is certified humane. This means the animal was treated humanely with a nutritious diet, no antibiotics or hormones and given sufficient space, among other criteria.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2013 D3

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