15-minute meals claim fails the test

By Amelia Wade, Geoff Scott

Jamie Oliver claims in his new cookbook that all the recipes can be cooked in 15 minutes, so long as you've done the preparation. And without even breaking a sweat, the famous chef shows you how in his show on TV3. Oliver says his new book is his most accessible yet, "suitable for all ages and skill levels''. The Weekend Herald, like other overseas media, put it to the test - the pro Geoff Scott, owner of Vinnie's, and the amateur, reporter Amelia Wade. It took more than an hour, two supermarkets and nearly $100 to get the ingredients for both dishes, then 10 minutes opening, heating and preparing the ingredients before the clock started.

Amelia Wade watches the timer as Geoff Scott of Vinnie's in Herne Bay attempts one of Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Amelia Wade watches the timer as Geoff Scott of Vinnie's in Herne Bay attempts one of Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Geoff Scott: Thai chicken laksa with mildly spiced noodle squash broth - 23min 7.58secs

Even with all the ingredients chopped, unwrapped and measured it was still impossible to make Jamie's meal in 15 minutes.

He's really going to get a nasty letter.

With a chef's eye it was easy to see what extra prep could be done after 10 minutes of the standard "get your pots hot, ingredients out and kettle boiled" which he uses as a disclaimer at the top of recipes.

I spent an extra 15 minutes and 23 seconds peeling the garlic, slicing the ginger and chillies, cutting the asparagus, preparing the squash, squeezing the limes and picking off the leaves of the coriander as I imagine that's what he does before filming. With the liquids ready to go in plastic cups, the water boiling and the griddle hot it was time to hit start.

With all that extra prep under my belt, I was confident and thought I'd have it in the bag.

But by two minutes in, I'd reached the first hurdle - a standard griddle pan only fits two chicken breasts at a time so with four required it meant the cooking time was doubled right off the bat. Jamie had also forgotten to tell me to cook it with oil.

At the 10 minute mark when only half the chicken was cooked, the noodles had only just gone in and I'd had to top up the broth because there wasn't enough water, I knew I wasn't going to make it.

There's just no way noodles can cook that quickly.

The clock was stopped at 23 minutes and seven seconds, after a hunt for a serving pot and with a knife placed nonchalantly on the chopping board next to the chicken for classic Jamie Oliver presentation.

My main grizzle was that the recipes weren't detailed enough - if you're going to do something like that in 15 minutes, the preparation instructions need to be as detailed as "grate two cups of squash". And while it was fun, it was more stressful than professional restaurant competitions.

Amelia Wade: Squash soup with sagey chestnut dumplings - 26min 9.5sec

I had no hope - at the best of times, I'm lucky if I can even cook toast. More often than not I get impatient and make do with warmed bread.

But with the casserole pot heating and the ingredients laid out in front of me, I started to plan how long I could brag for about "the day I beat Jamie Oliver".

It all turned to custard at the first move. What does "trim the spring onions" even mean? I also wasted 3 seconds peeling the stock cube and cursed myself for not thinking about doing that in the prep.

Then I realised I'd burned the pot by heating it for too long without anything in it. Had to scramble to find a new one, wasting precious seconds.

Then I needed the food processor again and nowhere did it mention that it had to be cleaned. The first pureed ingredients were starting to burn.

I almost lost a finger trying to peel the squash and cut the carrots which then didn't even all fit in the blitzer, and then when they did they didn't get evenly chopped.

Sod it. I was 10 minutes in, so I pulled out the larger pieces and threw the rest in the casserole dish with the other ingredients to get it cooking.

But I forgot to boil the water.

While the kettle was warming up, time to wash the processor yet again even though that wasn't in the recipe.

With the soup finally simmering away, it was time the dumplings and everything got tossed in. With the chestnut dumplings rolled and cut, it was time to boil them. The recipe said to do this for 6 minutes, but at some point around boiled-Watergate I'd hit 15 minutes and there was no way I was finishing in less than 20.

As I threw the pancetta into the oven drenched in oil, I saw the dumplings' hob wasn't on. Disaster.

Miraculously, I managed to pull everything together in 26 minutes and 9 seconds but covered the kitchen in orange squash in the process.

And the highest praise I got was: "Well, it's edible."

- NZ Herald

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