Analysis of a TV Chef’s Language

At the mention of male chefs, instantly brought to mind are vague, brief recipes, lack of description, fast delivery, aggressive adjectives, more profanities and harsh imperatives than ingredients and quantities, and a rough, restless energy. Jamie Oliver, however, is quite unlike that. In many ways, he steps away from what we have been conditioned to believe a male celebrity chef is.

He is affable, enthusiastic, and cheerful. Instead of focusing on toughness — that typical masculinity — he makes an effort to establish a friendly relationship with the audience – reaching out, making direct addresses, with a ‘y’know’ this and a ‘look at that,’ he also, just as frequently, uses first person plurals; ‘our sponge fingers,’ and ‘it’s gonna give us the air.’

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In this particular recipe, his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo, is also present, aiding the crafting of the Chocolatey Tiramisu and the way Oliver interacts with him – affectionately addressing Contaldo as, ‘brother,’ and ‘big boy’ on numerous occasions, and echoing his words (‘GC: it’s just cooked cream […], JO: cooked cream, get that in there’), shows us that he values Contaldo’s, once his teacher, opinion, and respects him – this presents him as good-natured and amiable. This is also the way similar to the way in which he speaks to the audience – first person plurals, direct addresses – and Contaldo’s presence only reinforces the persona Oliver wishes to relay– a male chef, but nice

Unlike his contemporaries, Oliver’s recipes are also reasonably detailed – he notes the ‘400ml of coffee,’ ‘50g of butter’ and ‘750g of mascarpone’ he’s adding, and describes the sort of ‘ultra, ultra sweet’ the tiramisu needn’t be, and the ‘delicious […] so good’ chocolate and ground coffee beans, which many other male chefs would not do. However, despite the fact he presents clear measurements, and describes his recipe, so the audience will have some idea of how it will turn out, many of his adjectives are less than graceful, and, despite the fact that he does not use truly coarse language, as many other male chefs do, to emphasize their masculinity, he still tells us that to make a dessert as lovely and as sweet as a tiramisu, one must ‘hit,’ and ‘grab’ and even ‘bash.’ However, such words have their effect – the viewer is able to both see and remember exactly what to do.

Oliver does not use particular sequencing terms, instead relying on the audience to follow his activities on screen. Oliver’s most favored way of linking section to section, is to say – ‘I’m just gonna-’- which is mostly just part of his idiolect, but nonetheless reminds the viewer when to look up and make note of the next step. His fillers are also rare, but, when they occur, are mostly comprised of a longer, more enunciated ‘y’know,’ which, though a still a filler, also makes it appear as though he is addressing the audience directly – and the audience would, therefore, be somewhat more engaged, feeling that they are being taught this recipe personally. This also makes the episode seem less scripted – this and his smooth interactions with Contaldo – and this naturalness makes him seem very much more likeable.

Oliver’s colloquial language – ‘gonna,’ ‘a bit like,’ ‘wrecked it,’ – make him appear more than merely friendly – but familiar. A person one would encounter any day, anywhere; the everyday man, albeit one blessed with the ability to cook superbly. This would attract a very wide audience, the younger people who want to learn to cook, the more experienced who wish to try simpler, though still clear, recipes, men, who would not be put off by lengthy anecdotes and flowery descriptions, women, who would not mind their absence. Oliver’s friendly, funny persona is standing proof that simply seeming nice is, in fact, very effective indeed.

This same persona is also what marks him out as a good representative of cooking by men. Unlike many other male chefs, whose restlessness and aggression are their tools of engaging their audiences, Oliver’s warmth, his clear, simple recipes, and genuine enthusiasm, ensure that a wide variety of people find his recipes both attractive and manageable, and he himself likable. His language is effective in teaching the viewer how to cook because he states exact quantities – ‘150g of sugar’, ‘50g of butter’ – while still allowing ‘a little swig’ of this or a ‘little bit’ of that – his audience, especially if already somewhat familiar with cooking, will find this both engaging and encouraging, as the recipe provides a guideline while still leaving some leeway for spontaneous improvisation. His pace is relatively fast and his tone varied – this makes sure that the audience does not become bored or lose interest.

His language and persona are both effective in teaching somewhat experienced people to cook even better, as opposed to beginners, because while his quantities can be exact, there are sections left quite blank, and his lack of defined sequencing terms may confuse some novices, or those not constantly watching the screen. However, his friendly persona makes sure that he has a varied audience, and this alone attracts many viewers, ensures his popularity, and may, in fact, be his most effective mode of teaching people how to cook.

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