Five minutes with Andi Oliver

The broadcaster and chef, Andi Oliver, has had a busy year: switching from Great British Menu judge to presenter and launching Caribbean home feasting boxes from her restaurant Wadadli Kitchen.

We caught up with Andi to talk about her change of role, the importance of Caribbean food history and why it’s okay to cry every once in a while!

Five minutes with Andi Oliver

Were you nervous about changing from judge to presenter on Great British Menu?

I was, but I’m so glad I’ve done it. My relationship with the chefs is different. I already used to be a bit maternal with them. Now that I go through the whole week with them, by Friday evening I’m literally lying on the floor with exhaustion because my nerves are completely frayed!

How do you relax in your spare time?

Books are a world of comfort to me and always have been. I just read The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, which was brilliant. I generally have an audiobook and a book in hand… At the moment I’m reading Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and am listening to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Tell us about your relationship to food?

Food is a portal into social history. Wadadli Kitchen, my pan-Caribbean heritage cooking project, is about celebrating traditional Caribbean recipes and ingredients. In Antigua, where my family are from, the national dish is fungee, a polenta-like dish, and salt fish. Each island has a whole gamut of influences because so many people have passed through the Caribbean. Some of it is painful, but it’s better to talk about our history because it’s a story of survival and strength.

What did you binge watch in lockdown?

I’m obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. I have it on in the kitchen when I’m cooking. It’s a ray of sunshine. I love that it’s political too, encouraging people to vote and talking about rights. It’s thought provoking and reminds you to be kind and live with love.

What’s your favourite drink at the minute?

Coconut condensed milk – and it’s amazing in a banana colada! Combine bananas, coconut condensed milk, coconut cream, coconut rum, white rum, gold rum, vanilla ice cream and a little bit of almond milk. Blitz that up, baby!

What is your kitchen like?

I hope my kitchen is a place to come home to. There’s always something cooking, there’s usually music. I’ve just got this is amazing oven, which cooks at two different temperatures – I’m a bit scared of it! My hand blender is my most used kit, for making curry paste and seasoning purees. I don’t have a sous vide; I use a pot and a fire and an oven and a barbecue. I’ve got about eight barbecues!

What was young Andi like?

We used to have massive parties and cook 20 kilos of chicken wings when my best friend Neneh Cherry and I were really young. Most teenagers just want to drink cider and get drunk, which we also wanted to do, but we couldn’t have a party without making food. And then we had kids quite young, so we started cooking for our families. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t cooking for people.

What keeps you awake at night?

The state of politics horrifies me. We have politicians who don’t believe in anything except themselves; we need someone who believes in people. Food bank use is up 300% in some places. That’s not okay. Charities shouldn’t have to plug that gap – the government should do it but aren’t. It breaks my heart and makes me furious. I have a good cry when I need to. I don’t pretend I’m okay when I’m not. If you’re having a bad day, get under the duvet, put on a great movie or get that shepherd’s pie in the oven. At 57 years old, one thing I know is that everything will change; the sun will always rise.

Great British Menu is on BBC Two Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

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