10 Minutes with: Andi Oliver

The  Staff Canteen

The new Great British Menu judge for 2017 Andi Oliver is no stranger to the food industry.

The broadcaster and restaurateur has made numerous appearances on much-loved cookery shows like Saturday Kitchen and is also a regular panellist BBC Radio 4’s ‘Kitchen Cabinet’, hosted by food critic, Jay Rayner.

Andis Stoke Newington, Andi Oliver restaurant, London restaurants, Great British Menu 2017 judge
Andi's, Stoke Newington
Photography by Tom Mattey

Andi says that her love for food began at an early age, hosting her own dinner parties and helping her parents out in the kitchen when she was just ten years old! She recalls big family gatherings with delicious food and drink and reminisced about the fond experiences that made her want to cook:

“I just love cooking; it makes me happy and how it affects other people makes me happy. Knowing you can do that alchemical, beautiful thing where you make something seemingly very mundane and everyday into something that can put a smile on someone’s face, change their mood and light up their spirit. It’s the whole experience for me.”

This is part of the ethos at Andi’s new eponymous restaurant in Stoke Newington. Started up with long time friend Kelly Miles, the North-London restaurant is a place where Andi and head chef, Gary Tunstall are cooking up affordable, wholesome food in a relaxed setting. Andi’s serves an all-day brunch and a brasserie-style menu at night. Atop the menu, it says: “A little love in your tummy” and Andi and Gary want to deliver just that.

Andi said: “[Gary] and I have the most brilliant time together – we work really well together and it’s a match made in heaven. It’s quite difficult to find somebody that you can create and cook with, it’s like finding your perfect dance partner.”

An item they’re developing for the menu at the moment is their own ‘tofu bacon’. By marinating the tofu in a wood ear mushroom reduction then dehydrating it, it will become part of their vegetarian Reuben sandwich.

>>>Related: Should chefs and restaurants be catering to the wider vegan community?

Andi stressed that the concept behind the new restaurant is about food bringing people together. With nostalgia from her childhood, she painted a picture of people breaking bread with one another and how important that is in today’s society.

Great British Menu 2017 judges, Oliver Peyton, Andi Oliver, Matthew Fort, GBM

Great British Menu 2017 judges -

Oliver Peyton, Andi Oliver, Matthew Fort

She said: “I think it’s really important to expand the British culture and at a time where we’re being told constantly about what breaks us apart and what makes us different. Something, like sitting down with people at a table with beautiful food and drink, and remembering all the things that we have similar to each other, is really important right now. It’s good to remind yourself what is the same, not what is different.”

As the new judge on Great British Menu, Andi told us how inspiring she has found the series. She said that she felt almost ‘maternal’ towards the chefs by the end of it and told us about the immense pressure of the competition.

“It’s very stressful and I’m not sure I could put myself through it. I promise you, I take my hat off to them. I’m really in awe. I think it takes a special kind of spirit… They’re like Olympians, these chefs. They’re like athletes. That’s why the brief this year is very apt actually because we’re talking about Wimbledon champions and sportspeople who’ve achieved so much and then these chefs, they’re in the same sort of boat. They have to give everything they’ve got.”

When discussing the high standard of food on the show, Andi also explained that while the sections with the judges’ chambers seem to be all over in a few minutes, there is actually a much longer and more complicated process when deciding which chefs will go through to the Banquet.

Pea porridge (from site)
Pea Porridge, credit - Tom Mattey

She said: “We have to be quite forensic about each dish and you have to really think about what it is you love on each level: the taste; presentation; the brief; gastronomy; whether it fits in with the overall menu at the end… So, you’re trying to build a bigger picture, it’s not just about whether that one dish is good.”

>>> Read more about this year’s Great British Menu

As well as continuing with Great British Menu and working in the new restaurant, Andi told us that she is currently working on a documentary with her daughter Miquita, called ‘Modern British Families’, which will look at the changing shape of the modern British family and how the core values that bring people together remain the same. A jack of all trades, Andi Oliver puts her heart into everything she does (including food), and she's spreading a little bit of love for everyone with it. 

By Jenna Lloyd

@canteenjenna

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th June 2017

10 Minutes with: Andi Oliver