Jack vs Jamie: The Evening Standard cook-off…

From Jack versus Jamie: The great austerity challenge, Evening Standard, 30th August 2013, by Susannah Butter.


“Save with Jamie, by school-dinners saviour Jamie Oliver, 38, came out yesterday and aims at getting us to “shop smart, cook clever, waste less”. He says it’s possible to save £3,000 a year by following his recipes and reminds us that around 40 per cent of food bought in Britain ends up in the bin. Cue pangs of guilt about that leftover lasagne I binned last week.

But single mother Jack Monroe, 25, has taken a pop at the chef, who is worth an estimated £150 million, for his approach. Monroe is known for her blog A Girl Called Jack, where she shares recipes used to feed herself and her son Jonny, three, on £10 a week. She calls Oliver “a poverty tourist turned self-appointed tour guide”, whose comments this week about poor people squandering their cash on televisions “support damaging myths that poor people are only poor because they spend their money on the wrong things, rather than being constrained by time, equipment, knowledge or practicalities”.

Monroe has a book deal with Michael Joseph, who also publishes Oliver, and a book of her recipes is due next March. Unlike Oliver’s book, Monroe’s includes desserts but both insist meat can be included in a cheap diet. It also helps if you have a liking for tomatoes and tinned beans.

In a bid to find the giant of frugal food, I tried out recipes by both Monroe and Oliver. At first glance, Oliver’s are more elaborate. In his sausage cassoulet instructions, the chef can’t resist suggesting that “added chunks of rabbit, duck or pheasant would also be delicious”.

Here’s how I got on.


Pasta alla mint and beans, serves two, 90p per portion, takes 25 minutes

Tasty? My friends couldn’t believe this wasn’t a Jamie Oliver recipe. “The lemon and cheese seem so him,” they protested. There wasn’t quite enough pesto but apart from that this was a success. The star of the meal was the potato, chopped up and mixed with the pasta to make filling fodder.

Easy? All it takes is chopping. Of the nine ingredients green beans were the most expensive, at 50p for half a packet, and garlic the cheapest at 8p a clove.

Spiced chicken and mandarin tagine, serves four, 85p a portion, takes 40 minutes

Tasty? We unananimously decided that this juicy creation trounced my other efforts. The mandarin slices were a highlight and stopped the chicken getting dry, while the addition of paprika, cumin and tumeric added punch. Some chicken breast would have been nice but the leg meat was tasty enough, although not free-range — that would have been £8 at Sainsbury’s instead of the £1.88 I paid for four legs, making them the most expensive ingredient.

Easy? A one-pot job — just shove it all in and stir.


Barbecue baked beans with smashed sweet potatoes, serves six, £1.74 per portion, takes 1 hour 30 minutes

Tasty? A bubbling pot that smelled amazing — of baked onions and garlic, with a spicy, woody overtone. This was comforting, hearty winter fare, and certainly filling. The 21p extra for cheddar was worth it as the cheesy croutons were perfect for mopping up the beany juices.

Easy? The Jamie Oliver recipes were more complicated than Monroe’s but there’s still nothing too strenuous, just putting the carrots, onion, garlic and chilli in first, then taking them out before adding the beans, passata and spices. Make sure to leave enough time to cook the sweet potatoes and croutons.

Spiced sausage cassoulet, serves four, £1.86 a portion, takes 1 hour 20 minutes

Tasty? Despite the onion this was slightly bland. I had to go to the butcher for the pork belly (£1.48 for 150g), which was a bother, especially as it didn’t make that much difference to the taste.

Easy? I resented having to remove the sausages to cut them up after cooking. Apart from that and all the chopping it was simple. Just cook the meat (the sausages were the most expensive, at £1.84 for four), and add carrots, onion, herbs, passata and beans. Oliver told me to toss the rosemary in oil before adding but I could have just chucked it in and saved on washing up.

And the winner is … sorry, Jamie, but Jack came out on top, with tastier, easier and cheaper fare.”

Categories: Blog


  1. very inspired, keep it up! Your recipes are fantastic for some-one on a student budget here in NZ where our food is very expensive. Thank you

  2. jack – I have been following you from the beginning of your blog and use your recipes all the time.. Well done you – they’re great. And well done too for standing up to the ‘Goliaths’ of the culinary world. You are a gutsy lady.

  3. Woohoo! Get in there Jack! I am so with you on this! The way that multimillionaires preach how to eat frugally when it costs and arm and a leg to get the obscure ingredients they insist we need. Plus the most important ingredient of time. I am a single parent of 3 hungry teenagers who need good food quickly when i get home late. I am aware I am luckier than most as I have a job, but I work very long hours to just cover my outgoings.

    It is time we have a voice in the media who doesn’t treat us as reckless with our money. Lets back jack

  4. Hi, Jack – wonder how long it`ll be till you get the call from Jamie`s TV company suggesting an austerity cook-off between you and him? Would he/could he take the heat? Ha ha!

    • I think that would be a fantastic idea. Even better if the two of you were to join forces. While I agree it sticks in the craw to hear a multi-millionaire preaching about how to survive on a budget, I do think Mr Oliver is genuinely well-intentioned and, in the past, has put his money where his mouth is with youth training schemes at his Fifteen restaurants. Think of what could be achieved if you were to collaborate on a scheme to educate people about food. Why not work with Jamie to lobby for the institution of a new, affordable teaching qualification for basic cookery. We have a huge untapped resource at our fingertips, including retired people and mums returning to work, who already have the necessary skills and knowledge to help others learn their way around the kitchen, as well as how to grow what your own food and shop efficiently. What they lack is a qualification to allow them to impart this to others through schools, community centres, etc.

      It could be a cost-effective way to reintroduce cooking into schools, as well as potentially providing new jobs for many.

      What do you think?

    • Also,Jamie Oliver’s book is £26.oo whilst Jack’s is £10.oo. In addition it has been estimated that utensil requirement value for the former is £300.oo whilst for the latter it
      looks at £20.oo. For those struggling, Jack’s way is a no brainer, and for those not struggling (yet!). When you eat her meals one would not guess of their low cost
      as they will suit all tastes, and use them as a base for additional or alterntive ingredients as most recipes can be.

  5. Well done, keep it up, if you don’t mind I’m going to start introducing you to a wider audience, if that’s pos. why everyone isn’t more aware must be due to the fact that not everyone has access to the TV or Internet. Xx

  6. Don’t know about anybody else but I’m sick to death of being told that 40%(or 60% or whatever bloody figure that particular journalist has dredged up) of the food we buy gets thrown away. NO IT DOESN’T, the supermarkets might throw away that much, but the consumer doesn’t, particularly ones who stop by here occasionally.

  7. sorry – but I really don’t see why this has to be a battle between Jamie Oliver and Jack? surely both are trying to give people the knowledge and confidence to eat well on a limited budget – what is wrong with Jamie doing that as well as Jack? I would think that Jack will be much more effective than Jamie for someone on a very limited income, but lots of families do have more than £10 a week but still really need help in producing good food as economically as possible.
    so I would vote for co-operation and support, not conflict!

  8. I’m not sure you have the same target audience- I mean to save £3,000 a year with similar costing recipes means you’re already spending @£80+ a week just on food, which isn’t poverty, let alone extreme poverty.

    Frugal living is great to re-gig the budget, increase savings and financial control and to prevent waste on hyped-up unnecessary stuff.

    Making appetising filling food from the cheapest ingredients, knowing what to buy with almost nothing to spend, and how to use food banks and waste nothing is beyond that.

  9. Congratulations Jack

    Posts like this and in fact your entire blog remind me that there is a crushing difference between the ‘austerity’ practises of the wealthy vs those of the less moneyed folk. At nearly 2 quid a meal Jamie probably genuinely believes his meals are cheap, if your used to paying 20 quid a plate at restaurants 2 quid is nothing.

    Thank you for showing that good healthy food can be done affordable on small budgets and everyone and anyone can find them selves in difficult circumstances. Poverty is not exclusively any race, gender or even sexual orientation.

    Your fans may not be in the millions but we love you and what you represent. So please ignore the ignorant detractors and embrace the folks who love you for you.

  10. I may forgive Jamie, as I think he is well intentioned but he should not have made comments about poor people buying large TVs instead of food as this is patronising and prejudiced simply because he has not met every poor person and is merely regurgitating rather cosy Middle class myths about poverty and poor people, in that poor people are feckless, uncaring about food and nutrition and are all chavs who eat cheap burgers, takeaways, fried chicken and sugary, salty cheap food. Even if poor people did that, what business is it of anyone else anyway? But from reading many comments on Jack’s brilliant blog, there are obviously many people who are poor who try to eat nutritional and healthy food and make their own food mostly as well. I am a poor person myself and cook most meals and buy cheap food and live very frugally as par the course.

    There is another more pressing reality to this too, which in the furore about rather naïve people making unhelpful and sometimes downright pompous and unpleasant statements about poverty. It is that many people are poor because they are underemployed on part-time minimum wage jobs, or the new slavery which is zero hours contracts, where you are on call at all times and may work a handful of hours in a week and whenever your employee wants you. No one can live like that, nor plan for any kind of future either. And here is the other reality impinging in on us again, that some people are allowed to have a future, the rich and the affluent Middle classes whilst the rest of us have to hope we get lucky somewhere down the line, keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. Whilst the wages of the poorest have decreased, this means there is more money for the already affluent.

    As a footnote, when the Labour Party and Ed Miliband should be telling us how they are going to fight and win the next election, and tell us in concrete terms what policies they are going to implement, they are fighting the unions over moot points. The poor and the disabled and the Working classes yet again are being abandoned by all parties. I have written to the Labour Party before many times about what their policies are and how they are going to fight the next election, but they never reply. It seems that the only people allowed to defend the poor and the Working classes are the well meaning Middle classes, but this is a sham as they don’t care as long as they are well paid and live far from the likes of most poor people. If the Middle classes really care about poor people they should campaign for a good minimum wage, higher taxes for the rich and affluent, the re-nationalisation of gas, electricity, water and transport and the return of free university education for a start. No, I’m not naïve as I know it won’t happen, but ordinary people need to understand that most affluent Middle class people don’t care one jot even though some of them pretend to.

  11. Amazing!!! Well done Jack. I’m obsessed with your blog & I’ve made so many of your recipes which have come out great. You are saving me & my little family a fortune. We don’t struggle anywhere near as much as you have but we are are desperately trying to get on the property ladder & lower food bills means more savings for our deposit. Not to mention my cooking skills improving all the time. Right I’m off to make some soda bread to go with tea tonight. God bless you Jack. I will definitely be buying your book next March xxx

  12. I think what you are doing is great. Well done. I would just add that some of the difficulty is in the way supermarkets package and sell food. In the markets in Asia the sellers will split up packets of spices and other cooking items and sell you just what you need. In that context many people do not have money to spare to buy food to save for later let alone room to store food –even spices. This debate as it is framed by the paper focuses too much on consumers and lets the supermarkets off the hook for their part in making food more difficult for people on very low income to manage.

  13. A lot of poor people (not all) do have terrible diets and Jamie is motivated enough to try to shock them out of it. Calling him a poverty tourist is a bit, er, rich. He needn’t bother given his celebrity status and fortune but he genuinely does want to improve the average person’s diet including those at the bottom end and he uses his high profile for that end. If this causes a controversy that attracts peoples’ attention to this important issue, then I say, let the foodfights commence!

    • ‘A lot of poor people (not all) do have terrible diets’ How do you know that exactly? Care to show any verifiable statistics? And if poor people do have terrible diets, shouldn’t something be done about that, like introducing a proper minimum wage and ending zero hours contracts?

    • Jamie Oliver admitted that his book is not aimed at the truly poor in the live Mumsnet webchat: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/mumsnet_live_events/1836958-Jamie-Oliver-webchat-Thursday-29-August-2-45pm?pg=16 in which he also admitted that his offensive comments about poor people were a “misguided generalisation”.

      Anyone who thinks that meals that cost £1.80 per portion are cheap is not poor. Jamie criticized the poor to publicise his book and TV series without offering them any solutions.

      The fact that Jack’s cheap, delicious and healthy recipes have such a following is proof enough for me that there are many, many poor people out there that are trying to eat well.

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