Nov 9 2009 By Sarah O'Meara
Jamie Oliver's Fifteen protege, Aaron Craze, goes solo with his new show Rude Boy Food, starting Monday November 16. The chef talks about kicking back with his mates, bantering with strangers and getting fired up over food.
Six years later, he now counts the multi-millionaire chef among his friends and can say without a shadow of a doubt that his jobless days are over.
One of Oliver's original Fifteen proteges, 31-year-old Craze is about to become a star in his own right.
His new cooking show, Rude Boy Food, starts on the Good Food channel on November 16, and it's as cool as Naked Chef was laddish.
Filmed in a flat which looks over the rooftops of real-life London, it shows a side of the capital rarely shown in lifestyle programmes.
Craze shops, cooks and chats in front of a concrete landscape and his food reflects the multi-culturalism of his upbringing in West London.
"My friends and their families were from places in the Caribbean and Africa and you could get anything you liked food-wise. Street food wasn't a dodgy burger with brown lettuce on the way home from the pub."
Although Craze might be a similar age to 33-year-old Oliver, he's hardly cut from same establishment-friendly cloth.
In the first episode of his new series, Craze cooks for a gang of local parkour enthusiasts. As they leap off walls and jump over hostile-looking metal railings, Craze is in the background working out how to cook up chicken teriyaki in an outside gale.
It's fair to say that a lot has happened to Craze since he rocked up at the catering department of the Hammersmith and West London College, in 2002.
His girlfriend Nicci filled in an application for the unemployed carpet fitter, who left school at 15, and he admits that when he started the only knife he was comfortable with was a stanley knife.
Somehow he and his family survived on meagre expenses during his apprenticeship years at Fifteen, and he worked his way up the ladder to become a valued part of the Oliver empire.
"I was lucky in the first week," says Aaron looking back on his first few months of the programme.
"They asked us to make bread, and that was the one thing my dad used to make at home. And it's the kind of thing you don't forget. I remember Jamie being impressed with mine."
But he also admits that there were times when he didn't think he'd make it to the end.
"It's still the hardest thing I've ever done. I had no money, and the hours were killing me, and I'd be trying to fit in carpet jobs around the place, to make ends meet. But Nicci was like, 'There is NO way you are quitting!' So that was that."
And thankfully his hard work paid off. After two years, Aaron graduated with merit and has since worked at The Ivy and also in the kitchen at Fifteen working his way up from trainee to Chef de Partie.
He then went on to win the Channel 4 series Jamie's Chef in 2007, after which he was given his own place - The Cock Inn, Braintree - and tasked with transforming it from a country pub into a vibrant Italian-inspired pub and restaurant.
Now he's back in London, and working on his new show. Something the young chef says he never thought would happen.
"It's hard to take it in. Last night me, my partner and our two daughters were sitting watching the Naked Chef at home, and having a lovely time.
"And the idea that people could do that with me - that's... well it basically seems unbelievable."
Find out how to cook like Aaron Craze with these two recipes.
Spiced chicken and salad burrito
(Serves 4 - each serving is two wraps per person, with about three slices of chicken per wrap)
For the spiced chicken:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying
2 skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 raw beetroot
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 large soft tortillas
4 lettuce leaves
150g cheddar cheese, grated
About 80g creme fraiche
3-4 sprigs coriander, leaves picked
1 lemon, cut into wedges
In a small, dry frying pan, lightly toast the coriander seeds for 1 minute, just until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and add the fennel, cumin, chilli flakes, paprika, cayenne, black pepper and garlic and grind together with the pestle. Add the olive oil and mix well. Transfer to a medium bowl.
Score each chicken breast three times with a sharp knife and add to the marinade. Stir to make sure the chicken is well coated. Pop the chicken in a freezer bag and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, grate the beetroot into a bowl and add the red wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Leave to pickle for 10 minutes or so.
Take the chicken from the fridge, cut it into strips and fry in a little olive oil until cooked through. Season to taste.
To wrap the burritos: place a tortilla on a board and line with a lettuce leaf. Top this with a few strips of chicken, followed by a little of the pickled beetroot. Sprinkle with grated cheese, then add a dollop of creme fraiche and a few fresh coriander leaves.
Fold the bottom edge of the tortilla up a little, fold in each side, then continue rolling up the tortilla into a big cigar shape. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Toast the burritos in a panini maker, or simply place in a hot, dry frying pan (remembering to put the join in the wrap down on the heat first). Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp and serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.
1 large pinch saffron strands
4 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
1 large white onion, sliced
70g cooking chorizo, sliced into discs
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
12 cherry tomatoes
220g jar roasted yellow and red peppers, sliced
50g smoked streaky bacon
300ml white rioja wine
2 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs sage
2-3 sprigs thyme
1 large Spanish dried chilli, roughly chopped
1 tsp paprika
450g paella rice
1.2 litres chicken stock
200g raw prawns
200g mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
200g clams, scrubbed and rinsed
1 pinch salt
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Put the saffron in a small bowl and add a good glug of olive oil. Set aside to infuse.
Heat a large paella pan or large frying pan over a high heat. Add a few glugs of olive oil and cook the chicken thigh until browned on each side.
Turn the heat down, add the onion and chorizo and cook for a few minutes so the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic, cherry tomatoes, roast peppers and bacon.
Once the bacon starts to colour, pour in the white wine and add the bay, sage and thyme. Stir well, then add the Spanish dried pepper and paprika.
Pour in the rice and stir well. Tip in the saffron oil and chicken stock. Spread everything out in the pan so the surface is even and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes. Add a bit more stock if the rice becomes dry.
After 15 minutes scatter the seafood on top of the rice and cook until the prawns are pink and the mussels and clams are open. Sprinkle with salt and parsley and serve hot.
Aaron's Tip: Use the freshest shellfish you can find - ask your fishmonger what's best on the day and feel free to switch the varieties accordingly.