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Jamie’s American Road Trip: Review

BBC America

Premieres Tonight @ 10p ET/PT

Jamie Oliver can’t seem to get enough of the US of A.  His newest series, “Jamie’s American Roadtrip” has him going to some unexpected nooks and crannies of the country to explore American subcultures that have endured hardship and the stories they tell with food.

The first episode brings Jamie to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.  He quickly starts chatting up the locals with their curbside grills to get an understanding of why they’ve all chosen to stay in a place that’s hammered year after year by Mother Nature.  Second to that is the food.  He meets Leah Chase, the “gumbo queen” who is still in the midst of repairing her restaurant from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, trying to find her way back to the booming business she once enjoyed.  Her Creole dishes are  still a local favorite, but there are far fewer locals than there once were.  After New Orleans, he heads out into Cajun country where he meets a grandmother who shows him how to hunt alligator.  And then prepare it.  The phrase farm-to-table isn’t all that great when you see all the steps in between.

Later on he heads to the familiar New York City, but chooses to focus his attention on the most unfamiliar aspects of its food culture.  He rents an apartment in Queens, he visits an immigrant who cooks and feeds the homeless every night from his own kitchen, he goes to underground supper clubs and hidden restaurants – all of which force Mr. Oliver (and us at home) to look at one of the foodiest cities in the world with new eyes.  Later in the six episode series, we’ll see him on a Navajo reservation and with a community of Mexican immigrants in East Los Angeles.

For some fans of Jamie Oliver’s work as a chef, this will be something new entirely.  There will be cooking, of course, but we are often watching him learn, tweak and then teach us, rather than present a menu his adept hands have handled more times than I’m sure he cares to remember.  “Jamie’s American Roadtrip” is a honest (and sometimes heartbreaking) look into the lives of Americans in search of the dream, and how the food they grew up with helps to shape their story in a new world.  It’s kind of an amazing thing.