Angellica Bell presents The Big Family Cooking Showdown on BBC Two with chef Tommy Banks. She was previously the face of CBBC and has been a reporter on BBC One’s The One Show since 2007. Last year, she demonstrated her passion for food, winning Celebrity MasterChef. The mum-of-two is married to former CBBC co-presenter Michael Underwood.
My first food memory is being in my gran’s kitchen in the Caribbean.
I remember eating fried plantain, stews with dumplings and macaroni cheese. She was a cook at a school when she first arrived in the UK.
I was a massive fan of school dinners.
I loved fish fingers, chips and baked beans, and jam tart with custard – I never liked packed lunches.
When my stepdad, from Yorkshire, joined our family, he kept talking about toad-in-the-hole.
I was quite young, probably seven or eight, and I didn’t know what he was going on about. But then he made it and I loved it. My family were from the Caribbean and had settled in London and that area was all I knew but, because of my stepdad, we started to go up north and travel around the country. I think that’s when I started to love the countryside.
When I got the job at CBBC, one of the first trips I did was to Lapland in 2000.
I was filming Christmas links with Michael, but we were just friends then. I ate snails for the first time and reindeer, which is their traditional dish, and I remember everything being in aspic!
The first meal that Michael cooked for me was shepherd’s pie.
We’d only just started seeing each other and I was excited because it was the first time that someone I was dating had cooked for me. Michael is the sort of cook who has to follow a recipe step by step. I got to his flat at 7pm and the food didn’t hit the table until 11pm. I was so hungry, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to order a pizza.’ It was high-end shepherd’s pie – the vegetables were chopped beautifully and he did his own gravy. I was impressed, even though I was starving!
Michael did MasterChef first, in 2012.
He got to the final. We had just had a baby and it was a stressful experience because he had to practise in the evenings. I remember thinking, ‘I’m never doing that show.’ When they emailed me, I kept saying no, not least because I knew that, if I didn’t do as well as Michael, it would be the running joke for the rest of my life. In the end, in 2017, I said yes. Once I got to the final, I felt relieved and winning was the icing on the cake. When we have dinner parties, we share the cooking. He’ll cook the main and I’ll do dessert.
Our philosophy was to start giving the children all sorts of food before they could talk and say, ‘I’m not eating that.’
They’re quite adventurous and open-minded. They love being in the kitchen and my littlest is brilliant at cracking eggs. I’m trying to get them to enjoy making food like homemade pizza so they see the process and get excited about it. They love sea bass but their favourite is a roast chicken dinner with Yorkshire puddings. If there are no Yorkshire puddings, it’ll be a revolt!
I am a big fan of the American breakfast.
Another CBBC trip that Michael and I did together was to LA, where we filmed with S Club Juniors. We had the best breakfast at Denny’s, which is a chain of diners. We had pancakes, maple syrup, eggs, bacon – we just couldn’t stop eating.
The last proper three-course meal that I cooked was in someone else’s house.
I was the prize in a school charity raffle. I cooked butternut squash gnocchi with a blue cheese sauce, roasted tomatoes and pine nuts, and then duck breast on a bed of hispi cabbage with croquette potatoes, orange and carrot purée with a blackberry and red wine jus. Dessert was apple and walnut crumble tart with homemade vanilla ice cream and apple crisps. It was fun but stressful because whenever you cook for somebody you want it to be amazing. The winners had invited some friends round and at first they thought it was a bit random having me in their house, but I told them, ‘This is your night, I’m here for you to have a good time.’ I did everything and washed up and they were so happy.
Your food heaven? My special carrot cake. People try it and always say, ‘Can I have the recipe?’ and I say, ‘No.’
And hell? Oysters. The idea of something slimy in my throat sends shivers down my spine.
Favourite celebrity chef? I have to say Tommy Banks because we’re presenting The Big Family Cooking Showdown together. Before that, I’d seen him on television and read his book. The first time we met to talk about the show, we went for a drink afterwards and were chatting for hours. We both love cooking but we’re not formally trained – he taught himself because his family bought The Black Swan at Oldstead.
Describe yourself in three words: Driven, loyal and fun.
Your ideal weekend? It would start with a run or going to the gym. It would be a sunny day. I would try a new recipe, such as the strawberry galette I made when a friend came round last night. It gives me the feeling I’ve accomplished something. We’d do painting with the children, make smoothies together or go to the park, or out cycling. Michael and I value family time at weekends.
Dream dinner party guests? Huw Edwards – he’s such a laugh and obviously very intelligent so we’d get some good chat; Oprah – I interviewed her on The One Show; Alan Carr – he is so funny and went to school with Michael. They were the only boys in drama class. Also, Adele, the Obamas and Damian Lewis, because I love redheads.
What did you have for breakfast today? Banana, raspberries, vanilla yogurt and maple syrup, sprinkled with almonds and ginger.
Favourite tipple? It needs to be a sweet drink like Malibu and Coke. I love coconut!
Finish this sentence: ‘I am most happy when…’ dancing around the living room to music with my family, after having cleaned my house top to bottom.
Read more celebrity interviews…
Look out for Angellica in BBC Two’s The Big Family Cooking Showdown.