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Why do male TV chefs have all the adventures? asks Andi Oliver

Andi Oliver

TV presenter and restaurateur Andi Oliver has hit out at the lack of equality in cooking shows which means men are the only ones enjoying adventures.

The 54-year-old, who is one of the judges on The Great British Menu, said she’s determined to break the mould and adventure will form a major part of her next TV project.

In an interview about her life with the Local Buyers Club, she said: “There aren’t enough female chefs on TV having adventures. We had Two Fat Ladies who were funny, there’s Nigella and she’s all sexual innuendo and then there’s Mary Berry aged 95 in a pinnie cooking Bakewell tarts. Why is it that male chefs on TV get to have all the fun?! I’m going to have an adventure. There’ll be music and food and poetry – for me it’s not just about food ever – it’s about connections and community. No more boring pinafore crap!”

Andi Oliver

Andi, whose Stoke Newington restaurant is getting rave reviews, recently appeared in The Road to Saigon – driving 4,000km through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in a 1970s Morris Minor with her daughter, TV presenter Miquita Oliver. Local Buyers Club members save 10% at Andi's (more info).

Andi's on Stoke Newington Church Street

She said: “It was interesting, beautiful and magnificent – we saw gruelling poverty and great opulence and everything in between. It was 38 degrees outside and 44 degrees in the car! It was bonkers and fun, and we didn’t argue until the end.

“Deciding to take a leap of faith and try new things is something I’ve always carried with me – I’ve always just hurled myself at stuff.”

It’s easy to see why opportunity keeps knocking for Andi – with a personality that fills the room and a warmth and kindness to match. But life hasn’t always been so positive. She grew up in Bury St Edmond in Sussex and, as the only black girl in the town, encountered “nasty, overt racism.”

“As a kid people were always trying to fight me and I did fight. Life was very difficult. Suffolk in the 70s was a strange place – it was as if the lights hadn’t been switched on yet. In time I had to unlearn all that anger and aggression – being treated so badly taught me to always be kind and it taught me resilience.”

Both Andi’s parents were born in Antigua – her dad joined the RAF and her mum was a primary school teacher. Her brother Sean was the bass player in Rip, Rig and Panic – a talented musician and songwriter, he wrote Wishing Well for Terence Trent Derby. He died in his 20s of Sickle Cell Anaemia.

The turning point in Andi’s life came when, aged 16, she visited Sean in hospital after he’d had a car accident. His bandmate Neneh Cherry was at his bedside and she and Andi popped out to the waiting area for a cigarette.

Andi added: “I’d never met Neneh before and neither of us really smoked, other than the occasional social one. We really hit it off and when we got back to my brother’s bedside we announced we were going to sing together.

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“I never really sang before that - I’d sing in the bath a bit – it didn’t cross my mind to wonder if I could sing in tune or not! In those days there was a lot of freedom. Six weeks later I’d joined the band and we were on the road.”

Neneh and Andi shared a love of cooking and went on to star in cooking show: Neneh and Andi Dish it Up. Andi added: “I’ve been having dinner parties since the age of 12 – Mum was very adventurous with flavours – it was never just Caribbean food, we ate many cuisines and especially loved Mediterranean food.”

Andi and Miquita

Andi was a single mum to Miquita and times were sometimes very hard. She said: “It has always been up and down and that seems normal to me – sometimes we have money and sometimes we don’t. Everyone thinks because they see you on telly you must be rich, but I’ve never been driven by money.”

Miquita’s rise to fame came about after she and Andi bumped into a friend who worked at MTV. When they struggled to find a presenter via various stage schools for Popworld, remembering how charismatic Miquita had been, they asked her to audition.

Andi recalls: “She was 16 and had been having a hard time and I’d taken her out of school for a bit to try and work it out. Neneh had paid for her to go to a private school and she had just started there and was living with Neneh when she got the job.”

Andi met her partner Garfield Hacknett over 20 years ago when she worked at The Globe speakeasy in Shoreditch. He works as a cultural facilitator and manages the band The Feds and they bonded over their mutual hatred of camping.

They live in Clapton and love hanging out in Millfields Park with a music system and good food. 10 years ago, Andi met Kelly Miles – they shared a love of food and, after working together at The Birdcage in Columbia Road, decided to launch Andi’s in Stoke Newington Church Street.

The garden at Andi's

They serve brunches throughout the day and transform into a cosy brasserie in the evening – the food is fresh and seasonal, and they have one of Stokey's prettiest gardens. Members of the Local Buyers Club save 10% there (Click for info)

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