Award-winning TV chef, broadcaster and restaurateur Andi Oliver rose to fame as a musician, fronting wild post-punk band Rip Rig and Panic with her life-long friend Neneh Cherry. These days she dispenses her distinctive culinary wisdom on shows including The Great British Menu and Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, as well as crafting exquisite dishes in her own pop-up Wadadli Kitchen.
CULTURE VS COVID: ANDI OLIVER
What has been your favourite piece of art/performance/creativity that wouldn’t have happened without covid?
For me it’s the fact that people who would perhaps have been making less noise have elbowed themselves some room, and it’s a beautiful thing. For instance smaller, more subtle musical projects like Tyson Mcvey & Oscar Scheller’s moonlight mixtape.
People have been reading more too! I did a show last year called Sky Arts Book Club live that garnered a lot of attention that in another arena would have been harder for us to hit. We featured a whole slew of brilliant writers and were given a space to discuss literature fully and passionately without shaving off the edges, so to speak.
Restaurants had to adapt and do it fast. I’m so impressed by the ways people found to deliver their food energy and love to people. National delivery boxes and ingenious menu development have saved whole businesses and meant people can continue their work. Chefs like Lisa Goodwin Allen, Paul Ainsworth, Tommy Banks, places like Cue Point London, Honey & Co, Aulis, Sabor, The Marksman, Hawksmoor, and so many others have led the way with bringing food culture to people at home. So, so clever. And so, so delicious and inspiring.
And thinking personally, have you explored new opportunities or new ways to create or produce that you wouldn’t have tried if it wasn’t for the pandemic?
Well my daughter Miquita and I started doing a ridiculous and massively enjoyable thing called “What’s for Dinner Mummy?” which initially was just both of us cooking, playing tunes we love, making drinks and making each other laugh in our kitchen at home. Much to our continued surprise it’s developed into us documenting whatever else is happening in our lives.
What will be the new outlets, the new spaces, the new ways the arts can reach people and also provide performers and creators a means to make a living?
Weirdly, I think the horrible situation plays to the strengths of creatives. We’re used to thinking on our feet and having to adapt very quickly. It seems to me the normal rules do not apply, but if you work in a creative sphere they never do. The digital spaces we occupy expanded to encompass our audience or performance or stage. We must be nimble – we have to stay open and be able to change it ALL if we have to without freaking out.
The crisis has been both a revolution and a serious challenge. How have things changed for you?
We’re about to launch our Wadadli Kitchen home delivery boxes and I’m massively excited about that. I’ve got such a great team and we’ve come up with some inspired ways to get our food to people to give them a little of the whole Wadadli experience at home with a whole bunch of surprises! I just love, love, LOVE being able to bring some light into the dark! We ALL need it now more than ever. And I have finally found time to start writing my cookbook which is a lifelong dream.
We’ve seen some great brand-led initiatives; is there more brands could be doing? What’s the best way they could help?
The pandemic does seem to have forced brands into developing a social conscience and that’s excellent news. I just want them to continue in that way. There’s always a danger that it’s a fad or that they’ll move on to the next thing they think looks cool. Initiatives that help and support community are more important now than ever. The shockwaves of years of austerity government have had a crushing effect, and it’s only going to get worse in a post-Brexit, post-pandemic world. As customers and artists we’ve created the power of these big brands and now we need them to support us – with real funding – because there is a huge social hole that too many people can fall down.
What’s the one development that gives you the most reason for optimism?
For the first time in my life I feel that platforms and networks are actually starting to genuinely listen and reflect the world we truly live in. George Floyd was not the first or last person to have his life taken in such a shocking manner, but because the pandemic world had stopped, everyone saw. People who would usually walk on by actually understood something that has been a corrosive terrifying heart-breaking reality for so long, and it shocked the world into action. It means that I and so many of us are finally able to be heard and that our world, our lives, our work is finally starting to be given the value it deserves.
We have a long way to go but it’s a shift and it’s a big one. Something that may seem trivial, like seeing dark-skinned black families in an advert, sometimes brings me to tears. Or hearing the head of the National Trust explaining the slave trade origins of the wealth and grandeur of their properties while standing up to attempted bullying is quite frankly astonishing to me and it gives me hope for our future. We are educating ourselves and the next generation and it’s the only way forward. As ever, knowledge is power.
Photo credit: Sky UK Ltd