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Interview: Wadadli Days and Nights at Somerset House with Chef Andi Oliver

Interview: Wadadli Days and Nights at Somerset House with Chef Andi Oliver

Talking to Broadcaster, restaurateur and award-winning chef Andi Oliver is who recently finished her role as a judge on the Great British Menu with over 20 years in radio and broadcasting, Andi is now on a journey to research her Caribbean food heritage. Pointing out that when most people think about Caribbean food it is a very narrow version of Jamaican dishes. Her event at Somerset House sees her and former band member singer Neneh Cherry cook and DJ in the courtyard, Wadadli Days and Nights starts today June 15th part of the Get Up Stand Up Now exhibition.
ALT: I wanted to ask talking of Neneh, in terms of your music background. I know you fronted a band?
ANDI: Well I was in the band Rip Rig + Panic an English post-punk band founded in 1980) which Neneh and I were singers for. I guess it was the late 70’s early eighties. something like that. It’s interesting really I never decided to do most things in my life it only when I have got older that I have been proactive in what I want, generally in my life I just fall into things, and I have been really lucky as I have fallen into loads of things that I love to do that have made me happy and I have made careers of it. My brother who was the bass player in Rip had a car accident and Neneh used to go and read to him every day from an old African bible that her dad had given her and I came down to visit my brother and he had kept telling me about this amazing girl he met (Neneh) and he had been telling her about his little sister Andi and how we should meet as we would really get on. and I walked into the room. and this was how long ago it was we went into the hallway and had a fag, smoked a cigarette and started talking and by time we went back in I was in the band and that was how I got started in music
ALT: So, let’s start talking about food. When did your love for music turned into love for food?
ANDI: You know it has always run concurrently side by side. I think that place that passion for food comes from is the same place that passionate for music comes from it is about your truth I think anything is art, food is art. If you really believe it really feel it, it is something that comes from your inner thoughts then it is your art your passion. For me I don’t think there is much separation and Neneh and I always cooked together for our fans, for the children, for the people around us. And the first time I cooked for people and people put money down I thought oh my god people would really pay me to do this it is amazing. For me it was just a part of life something we were doing anyway. I used to live in Ladbroke grove and there was a speakeasy at the top of my road and friends of ours were running it and they asked me if I could do some events from there and I started cooked chicken and doing rice and peas, and fried plantain, and I was cooking up a little bit of home cooking vibe and people started saying things like we are coming down with 4 people, it was like a proper little restaurant it really came about by accident I did not say I was going to start running a little restaurant but that was kinda the beginning of it, to take myself seriously enough in the kitchen to ask people to pay. We used to make this dessert with rum and butter with whipped cream: it is just an easy way of doing desert without baking.
ALT: Could tell us a bit about being on the Great British Menu and how that affected your life?
ANDI: I mean it has had a massive impact on my life on my visibility in terms of how seriously people take me as a person, how seriously people take me as cook, you know a woman in her fifties. It is an interesting the journey of womanhood against the journey of being female and an entrepreneur. When you are younger as a woman people tend to patronise you abit and you keep having to prove yourself, in whatever arena you what to be taken seriously the world table the boardroom, you get a pat on the head oh bless her and her ideas and then there is a brief moment in the middle where you might if you are lucky be seen as a potent women and then as reach middle age people don’t see you as a sexual being and you start to disappear again.. And which is very interesting when I started doing the Great British Menu at this point in my life, I feel the exact opposite. I feel like for the first time in my life there is a correlation between how seriously I take myself and how seriously the outside world takes me. I feel joining the team of the show has given me chance to really flourish and to have my voice heard and that is a blessing such a wonderful thing. I left two weeks ago and everyday I feel like I am coming into my own and more myself and taller and stronger and more beautiful and more passionate it is amazing.
ALT: So, what is it like being a judge on those as they can kinda of make or break the contestant as we have seen recently unfortunately with two other shows?
ANDI: I feel a real responsibility to take it very seriously, so you know whilst, it means so much to the chef and a lot of the chefs grew up watching it. Especially now it has been on for so long. So, when they get to the show being expected or not expected means a lot to them, they are not children so if they have not done a good job then I would tell them. It is emotionally difficult, to see them really upset but it is equally gratifying to see someone grow in stature. You have to break their hearts sometimes others you uplift. It a challenging role. It’s not about your own taste, is the food technically cooked correctly, the quality, there is a criteria, but it’s a challenge I welcome.
ALT What does Wadadli mean you have an event at Somerset house?
ANDI: Wadadli is the Arawak Indian name for Antigua and my family are from Antigua. Wadadli kitchen is my new obsession. I have now become absolutely taken by the notion, what I realised is that our heritage recipes are disappearing in the Caribbean and Caribbean culture people are just eating burgers and pizza. all the old recipes are disappearing, and I am making it my mission to discover. All the islands are completely different, when people talk about Caribbean food, they are talking about a very narrow idea of Jamaican food a lot of the time they talk about jerk, big fried dumpling that we do not eat in Antigua, we eat Johnny cakes. it is very important to me to start to research every corner, all the old recipes, things like , Johnny cakes is what we make in Antigua, to research what they eat in Antigua, what they eat in Trinidad, they all eat differently there are some similarities in term of cooking technique and they use some of the same spices but there are different foods on all of the islands with influences from Portugal Germany, India all across the globe. I think it is important we don’t lose that history, food is very important way of learning our history the more we learn about what we eat the more we learn about where we come from and why we are there in the first place and Wadadli kitchen is the beginning of my heritage recipe journey. Wadadli Day and Nights is part of the beautiful manifestation that Zak has put together he has put together this incredible exhibition celebrating black excellence. Wadadli is a portal to the event. The whole thing is being archived by my daughter Miquita. Neneh and I will DJ and serve beautiful food like chocolate curry goat and barbecues.

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