I love Jamie Oliver, I have always loved him and I have grown up with him via the television and he is my hero. He is not just a hero chef but he is an activist, a phenomenon, he moves our society to the better.
The universe, the guardian angel or the gods have a way of taking me through to the magnitudes of depths and glorious blooms of this life. Stories vary from one polar opposite to another. Here is a story of a day I will never forget, a day of great happiness and exhilaration, the day I first met Jamie Oliver. Only in my dreams did I imagine him in my home, filming with him. I planted the idea in a cosmic order and it happened!
I have been wanting to tell about the day Jamie came over, had a basic Vietnamese cooking lesson, cooked with me for a supper club and served it to our guests. It was one of the best days of my life. I wanted to shout about it for an entire year but couldn’t because it was due to be aired for Jamie’s Great Britain.
Last October, on a specific leaden, murky and lachrymose day, my mother called me. She was always worried about the tangles of weeds I was buried under as my relationship at the time crippled in fierce hostility. This made me the more irritated to receive the call.
Listen to me, she yelled. Jamie Oliver! The guy from the TV, you have to call him! Eh? Say again?! He’s looking for you! He’s looking for a young foodie who knows about Vietnamese food. What? Are you pulling my leg? Why would they call you and not me? Or get in contact via my blog? I don’t believe you! Why are you playing a joke on me?
Me, Jamie & My Mum
The thing is, my mother has a funny way of intuition and has a great knack of making destiny. For no good reason other than lunch, she went to The Vietnamese Community Centre a few weeks back to brag about me, how I run these supper clubs and how pleased she was that people are getting to eat good Pho.
Fresh One, Jamie’s production team went to the community centre to ask if they knew of a young immigrant whose grown up in London and yet is passionate about Vietnamese food. Mr Vu Khanh Thanh, MBE, the founder of the Community Centre, said, yes, I know someone, there is this girl called Leluu. He helped my mother settle in London with her two small children with housing and education in the early 80s, he had rarely seen me since I became an adult. He didn’t have my number, but my mother left him hers.
And so, I was interviewed by the researcher, the director, the producer and within a few days, Fresh One camped outside the flat, there were 3 or 4 cameras in my kitchen and one downstairs, sound, assistants, lighting, grip, production manager – the whole works.
I spent the day with the food team, Ginny styled my flat, we got all the ingredients ready and everyone was setting up their stations while Mildred, my mini schnauzer, stuck on the sofa was barking away at all the commotion.
I wasn’t nervous during the day but as time got on and I knew that I was going to see Jamie and that he was coming to my kitchen, I was getting so nervous. I did my hair and makeup and vainly asked Ginny to tell me when I was starting to get shiney as it was getting hot under all those lights. I went to get some air. I opened the door and saw how there were many vans and people running around. Noise of a film set.
Hello! You must be Uyen. I’m Jamie Oliver. I’ve heard so much about you!
I was so shocked. I extended my hand which were cold and his were warm. Great hand shake with two kisses. No one expected me to meet him, that wasn’t the plan- yet! I told Jamie how I was so pleased to meet him, how I loved him since we were both young and how I watched him all these years.
Good! He said. So this has worked out well for the both of us.
From then on, we were like old chums, chatting chatting like we were old friends catching up – Is that your fella? (its complicated) Is this your photography stuff? (yes) Is this your house? (yes) How long have you lived here (years) etc etc.
But we were indeed, strangers, and I was then to tell Jamie about our immigrant lives.
They filmed us making summer rolls, pho, spring rolls and banh xeo while Jamie was asking questions of my childhood, how we came to England, the history of the Vietnam war, what happened to the people afterwards. He was very moved and very interested in the whole story. My mother was there and he met my brother. He said that him and I sound like proper Londoners. Well, we have lived in London for 30 years, quite a long time.
We talked about yin and yang, the hot and cold elements in food. I gave him civet cat coffee and explained to him how its actually coffee that the civet cat poos out. It was hilarious!
Meanwhile, my friends gathered like a pile of sardines quietly on the stairs eavesdropping. I went to powder my nose and they all waved in extreme excitement quietly with their mouths smiling like it was also the happiest day of their lives.
Jamie and I plated up the food and he bought it down with Mia and I to the guests (some close friends and Vietnamese friends of my mother) waiting downstairs.
Mia & Jamie
My Mum, Aggie & Co Duyen
He ate with us, we chatted to my mother’s friends and Mr Vu about how they escaped Vietnam, what happened to the people who were left behind to the ones at sea. I translated for them, how Mrs Linh’s family were murdered by Pol Pot to Vietnamese traditions and eating ettiquettes.
Jamie was incredible and a very humble person. He is a people’s person. He was so in tune with what anyone would say, listened and took it all in.
Jamie chatting to everyone after dinner
He loved the supper club, how I set it out. Mike Sarah, did wonders to my garden by planting beautiful fairy lights everywhere. Jamie could have sat there talking to us for hours over a bowl of pho and all the things we made. Your wife and children are waiting for you, said his personal assistant. But they must be asleep by now – can I have 20 more minutes?
Jamie asked me if I wanted to open a restaurant. I said no. I said, I am a film maker, a photographer – thats what I want to do.
I want to go to Vietnam. He said. Jamie Does Vietnam. I said. I would like to come with you. OK.
I went to Mersea where Jamie filmed. He cooked me fish. I made him a prawn salad with carrot and green papaya (similar to this). I even got to go inside The Cock In Cider. Marvellous!
This did not get through to the final cut. The gods have other plans. I continue to love Jamie Oliver.