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The British: Culinary contenders

I spent a good part of the weekend watching the Olympics and I suppose that could have prompted me to crave one of Great Britain’s storied contributions to world cuisine: bubble and squeak (a wodge of leftover cabbage and potatoes), chip butty (a sandwich filled with French fries) or deep-fried Mars bars. Instead I reflected on how English cooks, once the butt of international jokes (see preceding sentence) are now international trendsetters.

The first English cooks to penetrate my American consciousness were Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, the “Two Fat Ladies” whose droll BBC show began running on the American Food Network in the late 1990s. Then came Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. With her posh tones and voluptuous figure, Lawson didn’t register as particularly British, but Oliver reveled in his working-class Essex accent and cockney expressions. After his “Naked Chef” took off on American TV, he published a string of bestselling books and became a transatlantic spokesman for healthy eating and, especially, better-quality school lunches.

Then there's Gordon Ramsay, the potty-mouthed kitchen tyrant who has become a fixture on Fox for screaming at inept chefs, both amateur and professional.

Nontelevised British chefs such as Fergus Henderson and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, the fathers of “nose to tail eating,”  have become heroes to a generation of American chefs along with cookbook author-memorist Nigel Slater and current vegetarian guru Yotam Ottolenghi. Both the former’s “Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch,” Ten Speed, $40 and the latter’s “Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi,” Chronicle, $35, wound up on my 2011 list of the year’s best cookbooks.

Who's laughing now?

Jamie Oliver

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