One if by Land, Two if by Kitchen
Amanda-Jane Doran -- 9/4/00
Britain's hottest chef makes his American debut with Hyperion and on Food Network

Naked? It's not the chef, it's the food.
With more than 500,000 copies sold of his first book, The Naked Chef, and close to a million copies of its sequel, The Return of the Naked Chef, sold within months of publication in the U.K., the BBC's Jamie Oliver is about to invade America with his gutsy, no-nonsense food and humor.
Oliver's U.S. publisher, Hyperion, is bracing for a media invasion when Oliver lands on these shores in October to promote the American edition of The Naked Chef and the launch of the show by the same name on the Food Network. By the way, it's the food that is naked, pared down to essentials, and not Oliver, though he has had many offers.

"He is one of the publishing phenomena of our time," said Will Schwalbe, executive editor at Hyperion, who acquired The Naked Chef after seeing a blad of the British edition, published by Penguin's Joseph Michaels imprint, at Frankfurt in 1998. "His attitude toward food was immediately obvious. He is not dumbing down the food but making it available to the widest audience possible--from MTV viewers to grandmothers."

PW recently sat in on Oliver's taping session in London, sampled a taste of his talents and considered how the British boy wonder who has brought rock 'n' roll into the kitchen might appeal to an American audience. PW watched Oliver strut his stuff in a trendy, loft-style kitchen with exposed brick and expanses of stainless steel. His manner is laddish and informal; despite the banter, Oliver is a consummate pro, scarcely flubbing a line as he chats to the camera and performs culinary feats with very sharp implements. He has been on the road all week for his show, cooking budget food with students and macho marinated steaks for fire fighters. He explained that the firemen came in handy twice as he cooked their "pukka tucker," which, whatever it is in American, they liked.

When Oliver lands in New York this fall for his American book tour, there may not be screaming girls on the tarmac, but judging from the pre-pub buzz about The Naked Chef, Hyperion expects his arrival to play like another British invasion. "I really see him as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones of cooking," said Schwalbe. Hyperion has already gone back to press for The Naked Chef and will have 80,000 copies available by the October 11 pub date. Taking a cue from his popularity--particularly among the ladies--in England, the American media are already courting Oliver. In September he's featured in People magazine, then he kicks off his tour to New York, L.A. and Chicago with appearances on the Today show and Regis. Some ink mentions of the Naked Chef already in place this fall: GQ, Food & Wine, Harper's Bazaar and the New York Times Magazine.
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Just 25 years old, part of Oliver's appeal is that he seems such a normal bloke. He d sn't drive a flashy car, just a scooter, and he includes many of his friends in his programs. One menu was devised for his sister's hen night (American translation: bachelorette party), which was filmed in his flat complete with raucous behavior. Oliver is rather keen on his "duds" and favors casual street fashion, particularly the British designer Duffer of St. George. He d sn't dress up for the camera, but he has a great eye for color. For PW's visit he was wearing a lilac, short-sleeved sweatshirt and old, frayed Levis with trainers, aka sneakers, which he'd described as "choice" and "wicked."

Oliver was introduced to cooking in his father's pub, where he began helping out at the age of eight. "All the food was fresh and we used local produce where we could," he told PW. Oliver received a thorough grounding at Westminster Catering College and did stints in France and Italy. He described the three months he spent at Chateau Tilques as a turning point, which had him returning to England obsessed by the quality of the produce he had used, and "gob smacked" by the commitment of the chefs he had worked with. "In Italy I was cooking with old biddies, getting into their kitchens, and also sourcing olive oil, olives and charcuterie. It was more touchy-feely than the training in France." Thus began his love affair with regional, seasonal food. His enthusiasm for fresh, simple ingredients, simply cooked, borders on religious fervor.

His first job, outside of the family pub, was at Antonio Carluccio's famous Neal Street Restaurant , where Oliver perfected his breadmaking, among other skills. He went on from there to the ultra-chic River Café, where he worked with his culinary her s Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. Then came his big break. Tom Weldon, Oliver's publisher at Penguin UK, explained that during the shooting of a Christmas special at the restaurant, the camera kept coming back to Oliver. Weldon said that when the producer, Pat Llewellyn, rang Oliver the following day, he wouldn't come to the phone. Many calls later, she discovered that he thought his friends were playing a joke on him.

When Penguin/Michael Joseph signed the first book in early 1998, it was practically completed. Oliver had been working on the recipes for years and said he had always dreamed of writing his own cookbook. Lindsey Jordan, Oliver's editor at Michael Joseph, explained to PW that she wanted to preserve Jamie's "lingo and voice" in the book. Oliver has also taken charge of the styling and design of his books.

The public's response to Oliver has been phenomenal. So enthusiastic were his fans on a recent tour of Australia and New Zealand that his publisher had to hire bodyguards. Even the fact that he recently married his college sweetheart d sn't dissuade his groupies, which gets back to his image as a normal bloke. For example, last Christmas he cooked a meal for 20 members of Penguin staff and their partners. They enjoyed the same grub--sea bass baked on a bed of potat s and mushrooms--that Oliver had cooked for prime minister Tony Blair.

In preparation for his U.S. debut, Oliver visited New York City briefly last fall. "I went shopping and eating around everywhere and met my publishers," he told PW. His low-down on Gotham's restaurants: "Union St. Café was great, so was the Mercer Kitchen, but my favorite meal was at Babbo's, Mario Batali's place." Oliver described New York as "cosmopolitan and eclectic. They're pretty laid-back people with a bit of a mad side," he told PW. "I don't know enough about the States. I'm going over to be enlightened."

While English food d s not immediately conjure images of fine cuisine, Oliver follows other Brits who have made cookbook history by coming to America. Take for example the recent success of the Two Fat Ladies, Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright. Sadly, Patterson died last year, but the Two Fat Ladies cookbooks remain popular. Though it d sn't release sales figures, Crown's four titles by the Two Fat Ladies received critical acclaim and recognition in the market, largely helped by Food Network's adoption of their BBC show--which, by the way, shares a producer with Oliver's show.

Are the British taking over in the kitchen at last? Jamie Oliver's youth, charisma and energy, together with a commitment to producing feisty, stylish and ultimately delicious food, have changed the face of popular British cooking; can he do the same on the other side of the pond? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, PW recommends Oliver's orgasmic apricot tart tatin and a glossary for some of his more flavorful lingo. As the Naked Chef would say: "Get stuck in."
Final Books from a Bookseller FavoriteIn many ways, the acclaimed British writer Penelope Fitzgerald, who died in April at the age of 83, was a late bloomer. For example, she didn't turn to writing fiction until relatively late in life, at the age of 59; and, despite winning a Booker Prize for Offshore in 1979, it was not until three years ago, when Houghton Mifflin's Mariner imprint began publishing her books in paperback (many for the first time) that they began to sell in significant numbers. Now her final two books, which she completed before her death, will be published in hardcover this fall, one by Houghton and the other by Counterpoint Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
Houghton v-p and editor-in-chief Janet Silver acknowledged that the decision to launch the Mariner paperback imprint in 1997 with a paperback original of Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower "flew in the face of conventional wisdom." But the gamble paid off. In the intervening years, Houghton has sold more than 300,000 copies of Fitzgerald's nine compactly written novels, some as short as 50,000 words.
In an unusual twist, Houghton considers Fitzgerald's first collection of short stories, The Means of Escape, a lead title this fall and plans a 50,000 first printing for the hardcover. "We felt she had earned a place on the hardcover list," explained Silver. Means contains eight short fictions written between 1975 and 1999 that have never before appeared in the United States. In another first, the book will be published in the U.S. before it appears in England from HarperCollins UK. Houghton will also release an unabridged audio edition in November.
According to Silver, who worked closely with Fitzgerald on every aspect, from the arrangement of the stories to the jacket design, of The Means of Escape, "Fitzgerald was surprised at her own success; somewhat astonished and very pleased, too." Silver told PW that Fitzgerald had had a sense that Means was likely to be her last book "I feel so grateful that she got to see it all, discuss it all, and that she got to review everything," said Silver. "The stories represent her work in miniature, and her work was miniature to begin with."
In September, Counterpoint will reissue a hardcover edition of Fitzgerald's 1977 biography of her father and three uncles, The Knox Brothers, which she had revised for an American audience. Her father, Eddie, was editor of Punch; his brother Dillwyn helped break the Nazi Enigma code. Uncle Wilfred was known as the shabby saint, and Uncle Ronnie was a detective-story writer and a well-known Roman Catholic priest.
Counterpoint editor Chris Carduff, who worked with Fitzgerald on 11 U.S. editions of her 13 books--she wrote two other biographies in addition to the fiction--calls The Knox Brothers "an intellectual autobiography at one remove. In talking about the moral and religious issues that concerned them, she's also telling us an awful lot about her life. What they believed in and what they celebrated, she believed in, too."
As with many midlist titles, both publishers will rely on reviews to call attention to the Fitzgerald books, with Counterpoint putting an emphasis on the regional trade shows this fall. Despite the limited publicity push, literary bookstores PW spoke with foresee little problem in promoting Fitzgerald's two final gifts--in hardcover--to their customers.
"Fitzgerald's a bookseller's dream," said Pam Stirling, midlist buyer at Kepler's Books & Music in Menlo Park, Calif. "She's one of those authors that when people come in looking for a good read, and we recommend her, they are satisfied." Stirling said Fitzgerald's faithful readers wait for her books to appear on the fiction table. So these titles are likely to be received as a bittersweet gift. "At this point all we need to do is make them available," she added.
Paul Ingram, buyer and events coordinator at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, told PW that he was sure sales on the new Fitzgerald titles would be good. "I know who her special fans in town are, and I will certainly let them know [about the books]," he said. "Fitzgerald's pretty easy to promote in the world of handselling. There's a big word-of-mouth about her, and almost nobody d sn't like her."
That's certainly what Houghton and Counterpoint are counting on with these final, quiet publications of Penelope Fitzgerald's work.
--Judith Rosen