Having tantalised with her off-the-beaten-track culinary exploits in Morocco, celebrity chef Jenny Morris returns to Food Network with Jenny Morris Cooks the Riviera. This time, her palate enjoys the flavoursome traditional dishes while Morris gets to meet the most colourful character à la classic movie-style, writes Debashine Thangevelo…

JENNY Morris is one of the most delightful celebrity chefs on home soil. Her effervescent personality combined with her inherent passion for cooking makes her somewhat of a walking cookbook.

When in Morris’s company it is not uncommon to hear her animatedly ramble on about the flavours of a medley of veggies or fruit or how she was wowed by some exotic dish on her travels. And well-travelled this enchanting chef most certainly is.

In her latest 10-part series, Morris serves up Mediterranean dishes – and she certainly does so with panache as viewers will deduce from her ‘70s style movie moment in the first episode of Jenny Morris Cooks the Riviera.

Of the contrast between her latest and last show, she says, “The Morocco show was beautiful and rustic. We travelled 6 000km across the country. So they (The Food Network) thought we should take it up a notch. For Cooks the Riviera, we had glitz and the beautiful tradition side as well.”

On the glamorous movie star opening shots of the first episode, she chuckles, “It was nice to be driven around in a sports car, chauffeured by a handsome driver.”

Even better, she had a wardrobe that was in keeping with her scenic and sophisticated ambience.

Morris notes, “Desray Designs designed every outfit for the show, which took the stress out of my life. She understands my personality and a voluptuous woman’s body – she can dress big girls.”

Shedding light on the highlights of making this series, she offers, “It doesn’t matter how glitzy the Riviera is, the people there are still in tune with the seasons.

“Everything you see at the market is seasonal produce. Once again, that is what I love about the European lifestyle. They celebrate the seasons. They have an abundance of fish in the Mediterranean. I went to the fish market there and I wanted to kiss each fish (laughs).”

Morris continues, “I thought, why can’t I do this at home? Everything is fresh and twitching. I got to see figs grow. Every market had these purple, succulent figs. The food fed my soul and I was stuffing my mouth with anything ripe and ready.”

Talking about what she serves up, the celebrity chef notes, “I learnt some of their beautiful dishes and gave it my twist. For instance, I went to a basil farm, which was like being in basil heaven, and I made pesto. My perception of focaccia changed.

“I watched this woman as she made these thin sheets of phyllo-like pastry, put local cheese in it and then covered it with another sheet of pastry. Baked it in a woodfired oven for about six to eight minutes.

“Then poked holes in it with these gorgeous cheese bubbles popping up. Drizzled olive oil over it. I have never tasted anything like it. What I learnt from her is that it’s traditional – they don’t change it. She was like a fourth or fifth generation in this family empire.”

I swear I could almost hear her lips smacking in delight at the recollection of that experience.

Another momentous experience on the show was meeting 70-year-old Luigi.

She says, “You must see that man’s muscle and tone. He has lived such a wonderful, clean and healthy life. And he is living proof of that. His sons are in the fish business and he has taught them well. But he still won’t let them touch those anchovies, which he bottles and sells. He sells them cooked and salted. He is well-known for his anchovies.”

That’s when Morris derails into her past, when she was married to an Italian.

She adds, “Luigi reminded me of Antonio, my ex-father in law. He taught me how to catch pigeons. There is so much of the language I understand, especially the food stuff.”

There were so many more highlights on her time on the Riviera – all will be revealed on the show.

Although she wasn’t able to bring back the stinking rose (garlic), Morris says she “brought some porcini dried mushrooms, beautiful olive oils and vinegars and salt”.

• Jenny Morris Cooks the Riviera debuts on Food Network from next Monday at 12.15pm and 4.25pm.