Food: Andi Oliver on how she was helped by cooking during a challenging year

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A banquet devoted to the most significant workers of the country culminates in the Great British Christmas Menu. From Andi Oliver, Georgia Humphreys finds out more.

Andi Oliver has a new job after four series as a Great British Menu judge.

56, the dazzling host and chef, will host the BBC Two cooking competition’s upcoming Christmas special, which will span seven episodes. The 16th season will also be hosted by her, and will air in 2021.

Comedian Kerry Godliman replaces Oliver on the Great British Christmas Menu judging panel – alongside Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton. Meanwhile, the panel will be rounded out each week by a different guest linked to the show’s theme of promoting high achievers.

Together, as part of a six-course feast, the four will determine which culinary titans get to serve their innovative dishes – and in the event of a tie, the decision will go to Oliver.

Here, we explore the pleasure of presenting and how cooking helped her through a tough year with Oliver (who also used to play in a band with ’80s pop star Neneh Cherry).

Can you tell us what we can expect from the Great Christmas Menu in Britain?

A special Christmas is a blast! This is intended to be a thank you to our main workers, who over the past year have literally been the backbone of this country. People have lost their lives, people risk their lives every day just to keep us safe, and it is really important for us to do something that reflects, in some small way, the respect we all feel for them. And truly, the chefs rose to the occasion.

What was the movie like?

The entire thing is so joyful. We’ve got veterans back in the kitchen, too; we’ve got Tommy Banks, Tom Aikens, and a few others—some surprises I’m going to save.

We have some favourites from the Great British Menu. Some of the stars from previous years cook with veterans who have judged them before, so it’s a lot of fun to do that. “Some veterans say, “Oh my Gosh, I’ve forgotten how hard this kitchen is!

When you were asked to take on the role of host, how did you feel?

I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do it at first because I loved being a judge on the Great British Menu so much, and I was just a little anxious about leaving that behind. I love Oliver and Matthew, and I thought,’ Man, I’m not going to be with Oliver and Matthew anymore!’ I thought I had a little bit of anxiety about separation. But, I have to admit, it was an utter joy.

Tell us a little more about what the new position looks like….

It was an absolute revelation to get to know the chefs, seeing them go through an emotional experience over the course of the week. I knew it would be fun to work with the chefs more closely and see the dishes grow and unfold.

It’s such a pleasure to see their imaginations flourish. Honestly, I was very surprised last week by one of the chefs. The improvements they made to a dish from Monday to Friday’s judging period…. I was absolutely amazed.

In the ups and downs of the competition, they direct the chiefs. They are also a bit of a therapeutic….

We’ve already begun shooting the new main series now; some of them have been here before, but most of them are brand new to the competition – they don’t really know what to expect. And they know what to expect, and those who have been here before and are coming back now, but they all agree it’s not easier.

Actually, because you know what to expect, it can also be much more stressful because you know how hard it is because you know the arcs and ups and downs in the week ahead. It’s like going out with a friend you’ve been with before or something else!

Have you done loads of cooking in jail?

All the time! For my mental health, it’s a really nice thing. It’s my cooking, a really important form of creativity for me. My daughter [TV and radio host Miquita Oliver] and I started an Instagram series in April called “What’s mummy for dinner?” “Cooking, dancing, and making music. It was like a little glimpse into our family life. And then, right down my street, we wanted to do a pop-up restaurant. It was very interesting to have so much time on my hands unexpectedly, and I’m not good at sitting on my hands.

I’ve got five or six big Weber BBQ units, and a friend of mine has a pub at the end of my street, so we’re going to have one.

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