By Calum Henderson


It's been 20 years since Jamie Oliver first zoomed into our lives on his Vespa, said everything was "pukka" or "lubbly jubbly" and changed television cooking shows forever.

Jamie was fresh, authentic and – strange as it might seem now – cool. At that point in my life, I'd say Jamie was probably the coolest person I'd ever seen on TV.

He reminded me of the male student teachers we had at intermediate school. They wore beanies and jeans and probably never washed their hair. Once my friends and I hung out with them (sat near them) while they drunk beer on the terraces at a Cricket Max game.

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Jamie was like them, only on TV. He bounced around the first episode of The Naked Chef ("it's not me, it's the food!") in a kind of trendy bowling shirt. His hair looked like absolute rubbish - but rubbish hair was cool in 1999.

He'd always slide down that wobbly spiral staircase at his flat whenever anyone came to the door, remember? Unnecessarily dangerous in retrospect, but at the time? Cool.

Once was Naked now Quick and Easy. Jamie Oliver, circa 2000.
Once was Naked now Quick and Easy. Jamie Oliver, circa 2000.

The Naked Chef was – and still is – a genius show. Each episode was based around a different social setting, kind of like how a lot of children's television works. In the first one his boss is coming round for tea, in the next he's cooking for his sister's hen's night, that sort of thing.

I remember loving the one where he had his bandmates round to the flat for a curry. Everything about it was aspirational: being in a band, having a flat, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, listening to Gomez, eating weird spicy food like it's no big deal.

It was a huge year for celebrity chefs, 1999. It was also the year Nigella Lawson arrived on the scene with the iconic Nigella Bites. Nigella indulging in an extra spoonful of creme fraiche, Jamie tearing up his herbs instead of chopping them. Revolutionary.

Nigella's brand of cool has proven more or less timeless but Jamie's didn't last that long – within a couple of years he had become, basically, uncool. Thirty-odd shows and a range of mid-price Briscoes kitchenware later, you begin to doubt he was ever cool to begin with.

But the beautiful thing about cool is that it can come back around again. In fact, 20 years is usually about the length of a trend cycle. I saw a bowling shirt not unlike the ones Jamie used to wear on a trendy clothes website just the other day.

All of this leads me to believe Jamie Oliver might be on the verge of becoming cool again.

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Jamie Cooks Italy was the best thing he's done in ages. With his new kitchen-based series Jamie's Quick & Easy Food (each recipe only has five ingredients), you get the feeling he might finally be reaching a second, mid-life period of cool.

For the first time since '99 I find myself watching Jamie and thinking: that's a good jersey, maybe I should get one like that.

THE LOWDOWN: Jamie's Quick & Easy Food (TVNZ 1, 7.30pm Fridays)