The Requiem, Game of Thrones and Waking the Dead actress shares her memories of her mum’s legendary cooking, and reveals why she adds bacon to her porridge.
Star of the BBC drama Requiem, Tara Fitzgerald, 50, made her name in the 1991 film Hear My Song. She went on to appear in Sirens with Hugh Grant and Brassed Off with Ewan McGregor and, in 1995, she won plaudits for playing Ophelia opposite Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet in the West End and on Broadway. On TV she is known for playing Dr Eve Lockhart in Waking the Dead and Selyse Baratheon in Game of Thrones.
My mother is a very good cook, and her lasagne is famous throughout the land.
She soaks the pasta and makes her own béchamel. She almost burns the sides of the lasagne so the outside is crisp and the inside is chewy.
I had my first McDonald’s with my father.
My parents split up when I was four or five and then my father died when I was 11. By then, they’d both remarried. My stepfather was the actor Norman Rodway and we lived in Primrose Hill. My mother is a photographer who also paints, and my father was a painter. On my mother’s side there were artistic people – actors, directors, writers. I had already decided I wanted to act but Norman reinforced the idea. I met his friends from the Royal Shakespeare Company – they were all eating my mother’s lasagne – and he was very helpful. He thought it better if I wasn’t a child actor because it would be harder to be taken seriously as an adult.
My first food memory is of cocktail gherkins – taking them out of the fridge and helping myself.
I must have been three and we were in the Bahamas, where we lived for a while with my mother’s parents. My grandfather was a lawyer there. Later, I was fastidious about keeping a diary, and I still have some from when I was eight and nine. The entries are all about food: ‘I had a lovely day, we had spaghetti.’
When I was 12, I went on a school trip to Switzerland and we stayed the night in Paris.
The food in the restaurant we went to was inedible. I had a little escalope – I suppose it was veal – and I didn’t want to eat it. It was exactly the same size as the salver for oil and vinegar, so I put it inside the salver underneath a napkin, and put the oil and vinegar back on top!
I started waitressing as soon as I was 16.
I worked at a place called The Ark in a little wooden hut in Notting Hill Gate. It had a cult following, and the food was fantastic. It was 1970s bistro food. They did boeuf bourguignon, but my favourite meal was chicken Kiev, petits pois and chips. I worked there throughout my teens, and it helped to fund my training at the Drama Centre.
The first meal I made my partner was less about cooking and more about sourcing!
Edward is a property developer. We met in the 90s, and then re-met about 18 months ago. I made a smorgasbord of salamis, salads and cheeses. As I get older, I enjoy simple tastes. You can’t beat a good cheese on its own, with a bit of jelly.
I have seven nieces and nephews, the kids of my sisters Arabella and Bianca.
They range in age from about six to 26. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually cooked for them. If I did, it was probably pizza or pasta and pesto – anything with a ‘p’, just not peas!
My recipe for porridge has evolved.
It’s made with chunky oats, and I like it when it gets a bit too cooked at the bottom, as if it’s slightly toasted. I’ve started adding vanilla custard as well as raisins and banana, guava syrup or honey and bacon. The salt of the bacon works well with the texture of porridge. Somebody told me that we don’t psychologically feel we’ve eaten unless there’s a crunch so, if you eat soft food, you need to add something crunchy.
I like to cook but Edward doesn’t, so we don’t fight over the stove.
We both enjoy going out to eat. I like Granger & Co in Westbourne Grove. It’s an Australian chain, and the food is sensational because it’s healthy and ‘New World’, with lots of juices, extremely fresh food and interesting salads. I like their vegetable tempura, squid and risottos.
My last supper would be my mum’s lasagne and a brûlée.
The first pudding I made that I was proud of was a fruit brûlée with blackberries at the bottom, which exploded through the custard. I don’t have a blowtorch, so I just do the brûlée the old-fashioned way, under the grill. The fashion seems to be for a thin crust, but I like a hard crust made with demerara sugar.
Your food heaven? Lots of nibbles: little pots of pâté, salads and cheeses. I love bread as a dipper. You can’t beat breaking off a piece of crusty bread, it’s so satisfying.
And food hell? Anything without sauce, or chewy, overcooked meat.
Favourite celebrity chef? Heston Blumenthal: I have eaten at The Fat Duck. He creates an event around food, which I think has helped to create a different understanding of food in this country. It seems to me that people are now more interested in the provenance of produce – they care about food.
Describe yourself in three words: Analytical, curious, sharp.
Your ideal weekend? A surprise weekend, somewhere in Europe, with a heavy focus on food.
Dream dinner party guests? My family, Edward and whomever I am working with.
What did you have for breakfast today? Porridge.
Favourite tipple? A nonalcoholic mojito. I also love coffee and teas – green teas and white teas. I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago. I just went off it, and there are so many other things that you can do if you’re not sitting and drinking.
Finish this sentence, I am most happy when… I’m surrounded by the people I love.
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Tara is supporting the terminal illness charity, Marie Curie, and inviting you to join its Blooming Great Tea Party fundraising appeal in June. To sign up, visit mariecurie.org.uk/goodfood