Jamie Oliver is, of course, cuter than a basketful of golden retriever puppies. And unlike other telechefs, who implore everyone to kick things up to notches unknown or make patronizing remarks about heartland cuisine (look at us when we're talking to you, Bobby Flay), Oliver brings a passion to cooking that is both completely genuine and wonderfully idealistic.
As the Naked Chef (a moniker not to be taken literally, much to the chagrin of ladies and fellas worldwide), Oliver teaches would-be gourmands that cooking is not a solitary act but a delicious collaboration, an artistic endeavor that results in feeding one's friends and family. In 2002 Oliver opened Fifteen, a restaurant and hands-on training course for young, disadvantaged Londoners; the Food Network aired the arduous yet ultimately rewarding process in the moving Jamie's Kitchen. In 2004, again under the watchful eye of a documentary crew, the chef went to work in a London-area school cafeteria, where the daily fare was woefully unhealthy. As a result of the documentary series, which aired on Britain's Channel 4, the government upped the school-food budget by 30 percent and vowed to implement Oliver's nutritional suggestions (see www.feedmebetter.com).
Given all of this, we're pretty shocked that Oliver has even a minute of free time (did we mention that he also has two daughters under the age of four?), but fortunately, he's spending some of that time in St. Louis. Oliver discusses and signs his books The Naked Chef and The Naked Chef Takes Off at 7 p.m. at the Center of Creative Arts (524 Trinity Avenue, University City). The event is free; call Left Bank Books at 314-367-6731 or visit www.left-bank.com for more information. And note: Only books purchased from Left Bank will be signed. -- Brooke Foster
Lusty lovers, fairy magic, a death sentence and a man who transforms into an ass -- if this sounds like your idea of typical wedding preparations, then you're going to love William Shakespeare's wild comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although it sounds a touch ribald (and to be honest, it is a touch ribald), Dream is nowhere near as salacious as what passes for primetime entertainment these days, and it's suitable for the whole family. So pack a picnic, and bring the kids for a night of culture and fun under the stars when Hydeware Theatre presents its free performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday (September 9 through 18) in Tower Grove Park's Pool Pavilion (4256 Magnolia Avenue; 314-368-7306 or www.hydewaretheatre.org). -- Paul Friswold
Are You Hungry?
Every neighborhood has its own look, feel and personality, which all contribute to its taste. Lafayette Square, for example, has an elegant yet accessible air, and it tastes eclectic yet comforting -- and a little bit like wine and chocolate! See for yourself at the Taste of Lafayette Square at Lafayette Park (Mississippi and Lafayette avenues) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There, you can purchase tastes from Square establishments such as SqWires Restaurant & Market, Ricardo's Italian Café, Arcelia's, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar and Baileys' Chocolate Bar. Admission is free, and so is hanging out while Farshid Etniko, Kim Massie and Ralph Butler jam. For more information visit www.lafayettesquare.org. -- Alison Sieloff
There's more to Venezuela than the dust-up between Pat Robertson and Hugo Chávez. And now's the ideal time to get beyond salty newsmakers, as Arts & Treasures from Latin America and the Venezuelan Association in Missouri co-sponsor some Venezuelan vavoom during Hispanic Heritage weekend at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org). The free festivities begin Friday, September 9, with salsa and merengue lessons and dancing (6:30 to 11 p.m.). Then, on Saturday, September 10, the museum hosts panel presentations, screens Venezuelan films, and offers Latin American food and handicrafts (pictured) from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Finally, from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, September 11, kids get to participate in "make-it-take-it" activities. -- Alex Weir