September 26, 2021

If you’re just starting off in the kitchen and need a morale boost, James May has the cooking show for you.

May’s show Oh Cook! and it’s accompanying cookbook prove to viewers and readers alike that, even if you are as culinarily challenged as May, you can eventually find a recipe that puts you on top. The Grand Tour host has also traded his McLaren for minestrone to give his own flavour of recipes, “because we all have to eat.”

A cooking show has never before had as blunt and informative an introduction than the following: “Hello, my name is James May, and I can’t cook.” In a similar vein, the cookbook is dedicated to celebrity chef and restauranteur Gordon Ramsay, “with best wishes to his imminent retirement.” Despite May actually being able to outcook Ramsay (language warning) in some situations, the dedication generally amounts to wishful thinking.

The cheeky tone carries through the descriptions and introductions of each of his recipes, with the show itself is an incredibly droll, British cooking how-to. The spread of dishes range from a simple pan fried steak to the disturbing yet intriguing “Spamen”: cup noodles with cornflake-crusted SPAM fingers, the mere concept of which would cause both Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and your email to have a small fit.

It is also worth noting that during the demonstration for spamen, May successfully managed to burn the SPAM, and attempted to rationalize his error as cooking it “well done.”

Photo by Mike Reitmeier // Spamen is, in fact, re-creatable in a less-burned manner.

The Amazon Prime program is an excellent precursor to the cookbook, giving the viewer a good taste of what to expect. Comprised of seven episodes covering each section of the cookbook, May fumbles his way through different recipes of differing outcomes. Successes include a delicious looking half-and-half pie, while failures include the tragic abomination known as the Wobbly Jelly Pasta Baby.

Photo from The Grand Tour Facebook Page // You truly can’t make this up.

May also trials various kitchen gadgets to assist in his errant cookery, some of which end up in his drawer, and others in the garbage bin.

The most valuable asset in his arsenal, however, is the show’s home economist, Nikki Morgan. Morgan resides in the shows pantry and emerges whenever May needs a second opinion, or, more frequently, someone who knows what they’re doing. Morgan is a light of sanity and excellent cooking practice in May’s misadventures and brings a well-informed voice to the show.

The show’s attitude also reflects in the descriptors of recipes in the book, and the two combined mediums play off of each other exceptionally well.

The receives a well deserved 8/10 for its dry with and humour, as well as an excellent showcasing of the book’s recipes. The cookbook also receives an 8/10: this would have been higher, but it loses marks for not including a printed recipe for the Pasta Baby.

Come on James, you’ve driven off a cliff in Albania before. Own your disasters.

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