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'Jamie's America' Found Through Food And Families

When British chef Jamie Oliver took a road trip in search of quintessential American food, his biggest discovery was that there was no such thing.

Skipping the supersized burgers and junk food, Oliver visited actual American families to gather a diverse and delicious group of recipes. The result is a new cookbook, Jamie's America.

Oliver tells NPR's Neal Conan that he had to work a little to find the "beautiful food" featured in his book. He visited New York but eschewed Manhattan, opting instead to spend time learning Szechuan cooking in Flushing, Queens.

In East Los Angeles, Oliver stopped at Homeboy Industries and visited the kitchen of its heavily tattooed bakers. And in Arizona, he headed to the desert to learn about Native American cooking from the Navajo people, which, he writes, "helped give this book a really solid food foundation."

Once he got off the beaten path, he says, it was all about asking the right people the right questions. That was all it took to find foods that were just as artisanal as the finest dishes of Spain and Italy.

But that's not to say he focused on the gourmet.

"There's some really humble, peeled-back stuff," Oliver says. "I remember being in Georgia and just having some of the most incredible pit-cooked pork."

Oliver says he worked with the pit master at Neal's Bar-B-Que in Thomson, Ga., to learn about the 12 hours of prep that goes into their dishes.

"It's the most humble shack that it was being served from," Oliver says of the food at Neal's, "but yet, out the back was really in-depth love, care and attention."

Oliver is known for teaching people how to make good, healthful food on their own, but his book doesn't shy away from the heartier American dishes -- he'll just suggest a side of salad.

He says the biggest takeaway from his trip were the tastes he found in East L.A.'s Mexican neighborhoods.

"Lime juice, citrus, lemon juice, herbs, crunch, softness -- that kind of contrast of tastes and textures is so important in getting the palate really working and fired up," he says. "And that, with a good bit of meat, is just great."

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