Food milestones – Andi Oliver

The BBC presenter, chef and food judge reveals her favourite childhood treats, love of Mexican food and her culinary misadventures with daughter Miquita.

Portrait of Andi Oliver

Chef Andi Oliver, 54, is a host on Saturday Kitchen Live and a judge on Great British Menu and BBC Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards. She has a restaurant, Andi’s, in London and is a regular on Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet. Previously she cooked with friend, singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry in Neneh and Andi Dish It Up. She lives in London with partner Garfield Hackett. Her daughter Miquita is also a presenter.

We were an RAF family

When I was five, we moved to Cyprus where I was hit by an explosion of colour, culture and food. My mum used to work on the base and she would take my brother Sean and me to a little van just outside her office which sold loukaniko – Greek sausage in a hot dog bun with melted halloumi. I absolutely loved them.

We came back to England when I was 10

I missed the sun and outdoor living. We were the only black children in Bury St Edmunds, and I vividly remember being stared at and people whispering behind their hands. The one thing I liked were the puddings at school – spotted dick, jam roly-poly, chocolate sponge with chocolate custard. Steamed English puds and custard are still heaven to me.

Spotted dick and custard in a bowl with a spoon

I met Neneh Cherry when I came to London and joined my brother Sean’s band Rip Rig + Panic

Neneh and I have always cooked together – we used to do dance routines to the Jackson 5 while cooking. Food is the glue that holds our families together. At Notting Hill Carnival last year we cooked at Neneh’s house in west London and it was beautiful. We made trays of chicken, which we finished off on a barbecue in the garden, and a huge Mexican black bean salad with smoked chilli, avocado and red onion. We barbecued fish, too, and did rice and roast potatoes, and for the vegans we made smoked tofu, seared and coated with turmeric and toasted fresh coconut. Nothing makes us happier than a big table heaving with dishes. We like a banquet.

My dad used to make amazing roasts

These included chicken or lamb with perfect roast potatoes, rolled in seasoned cornmeal to get them crunchy. I always made the cauliflower cheese on a Sunday – it was one of the first things I learned to cook. My mum makes the best chicken and rice in the world. We call it ‘Nanny rice and chicken’. I still can’t replicate my mum’s rice and chicken. My mum and dad are from Antigua, and in the Caribbean they talk about the way you turn your hand in the pot. That’s what makes my mum’s food taste like nobody else’s.

When I met Garfield 24 years ago he’d been vegetarian for 13 years

I brought out this tray of gorgeous golden, honey-baked chicken; he looked at it, then he looked at me and said, ‘Oh God’ and started eating it. Now we call him Bacondread because he loves a bacon sandwich and roast pork.

Serving dish of baked chicken, potatoes and beans

My daughter Miquita never used to cook in direct rebellion against me...

But in the past five years or so she’s really gotten into it. She loves seafood. She came to me and asked, ‘Can you show me how to make mackerel skin crispy?’ So I started to teach her. She makes a sensational chargrilled fish curry.

Miquita and I completed a vintage car rally across South East Asia

Along the way, we had our worst ever meal. We did 4,000 kilometres in a Morris Minor in 12 days for a BBC show and all the food was amazing apart from in this one place in Vietnam. We ordered spiced battered aubergine – semi-raw slabs in thick soggy batter – and hot pot, which was a watery broth with unidentifiable things floating in it. It was so awful that we actually found it hilarious and became hysterical.

I just went on a little trip to Mexico

I got totally addicted to huevos rancheros: black beans, beautiful tortilla, perfect egg, a bit of chilli and gorgeous avocado. I had it every single morning.

Huevos rancheros tortilla with fried egg, black beans, avocado and salsa from different bowls

The last thing I cooked was...

A new dish for my restaurant in Stoke Newington: belly of pork braised with green cardamom, juniper berries, coriander and fennel seeds and white wine. I am obsessed with wild garlic so I made wild garlic honey by blitzing up the garlic and stirring it into a jar of runny honey. Then I mixed that with a little shoyu and brushed it onto the pork, which I then put on the griddle. I love broccoli stalks so I julienned some so they were almost like shredded spring onion, mixed them with roasted onion and served them with the pork and a bit of crackling.

My last supper would be parrillada

This is a huge barbecue grill of seafood like shrimp, octopus and hake. Garfield and I had it in Sitges (Spain) and it was heaven. The seafood was straight out of the sea, whacked onto the grill with loads of rock salt and a squeeze of lemon. I'd also have fresh bread slathered with dark amber French butter and loads of salt, and piles of dark green salad and avocados. Pudding would be spotted dick or jam roly-poly with custard, and I would drink Pol Roger champagne.

Selection of barbecued seafood on wooden skewers


Quickfire questions

Your food heaven? Parrillada

And hell? I’m a bit allergic to tomatoes so tomato soup is disgusting and I can’t abide a Bloody Mary.

Favourite celebrity chef? I am a massive fan of Rick Stein. He’s one of the most accomplished, feted chefs in the world, but he still travels with his notebook. He reminds me that we are on an endless journey to learn.

Describe yourself in three words: Talkative, nosy, cook.

Your ideal weekend? Staying in a house with a wrap-around porch on a beach in South East Asia with all my family and friends, and a barbecue. It would be a big cook-out, everyone laughing and joyful, with Neneh and me in the middle of it all.

Dream dinner party guest? My brother Sean. He died 25 years ago of sickle cell anaemia and I miss him every single day.

What did you have for breakfast today? Poached egg and crab cake on rye toast.

Favourite tipple? A blood orange mezcal sour or an espresso martini.

‘I am most happy when…’ I am standing in the middle of my full restaurant and see people with their faces lit up, eating. If they're happy, so am I.

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Andi is on the judging panel for Great British Menu returning to BBC Two in August 2018 and a judge for Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards. 

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