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.
A GIRL CALLED JACK
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.”