For Andi Oliver, food is about so much more than just the sum of its parts. Throughout my conversation with the TV host, chef, writer and musician we end up on multiple tangents talking about the origins of how a particular dish came about. Did you know barbecue was invented by indigenous Caribbeans? I didn’t. Oliver does. She fills me in on how it’s a Taíno word, and the fact that it was taken to Latin America which is how we got the word – and the dish – barbacoa.

“It goes back to that idea that the ingredients on the plate are more than just what they appear,” she tells me. “That piece of chicken got the smoke and the spice for a reason.” We’re in the middle of talking about her upcoming book, The Pepper Pot Diaries, and it’s evident that both the process of writing it and the research that has come with it has been an immensely personal experience for Oliver. “It’s my first book, which I’m really excited about,” she tells me. “It’s a book of recipes, but it’s also a book of essays and thought pieces in the form of a journal. I’m exploring all sorts of stuff really, identity. You know, food is a portal to so many different things. When you start talking about heritage and recipes and you’re looking back at, not just my heritage, but a broader Caribbean and British heritage, and bringing all these things together on a plate, it makes me think about how those things got there, how I got there, who I am. It’s a cycle of living.”

Barbecue is one example, and breadfruit – a staple of Caribbean cuisine – is another. “You end up thinking about something really simple, like breadfruit. It was brought to the Caribbean by Captain Bligh to feed enslaved Africans, because it was cheaper than bread,” she tells me. “It actually originates in Tahiti or something, it’s not indigenous to the Caribbean, but it grows everywhere there now. So something that seems like a simple piece of vegetable on your plate just isn’t.”

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The book itself seems to be an expansion of what Oliver was already exploring through her restaurant concept Wadadli Kitchen. Most recently having taken up a semi-permanent home in Hackney Wick, alongside being reimagined in a meal kit through Dishpatch, Wadadli Kitchen explores what Oliver describes as the idea of the Caribbean being more than a homogenous block, alongside being a representation, in many ways, of Oliver herself, as a Black British woman of Antiguan heritage. “Wadadli Kitchen really is kind of like my heartsong,” Oliver tells me. “When people talk about the Caribbean, they often call Caribbean food Jamaican food, which drives me up the wall. Jamaica is just one of many, many islands. My family is from Antigua. We have different food. Their national dish is ackee and saltfish, ours is pepper pot.”

“So, on the one hand it’s to explore and express the multiplicity of Caribbean cuisine and life in general. And then on the other hand it’s also expressing the fact that I’m a Black British woman, so there’s another dimension to the food I make. There’s the heritage recipes, but then there’s also recipes that I make using flavours that I grew up exploring and eating and things that I yearn for, like tamarind,” she continues. “I’m the first generation of my family born and bred in this country. I’m a Black, British woman of Antiguan heritage. And my food reflects this.” Oliver touches on this idea of the fusion between her Caribbean heritage and her British upbringing in her cooking, and how it spurred a slightly more experimental approach to these recipes that not everyone is always happy with.

“It’s about having your own creativity, which is quite difficult when you’re talking about food from a diaspora, because people don’t really like you to mess with things. You do have to respect the heritage and backbone of the cuisine. Because when you’re talking about diasporic cooking, you’re talking about the bits nobody else wanted – oxtail, pigtails, soused pork bellies – and the ingenuity it took to cook those things is testament to the creativity of the enslaved African people and the Caribbean cook. But to say ‘that’s where the creativity ends’ doesn’t make sense to me.”

I have women of all colours and shapes and sizes coming and speaking to me all the time and telling me how grateful they are that I’m visible to them on the screen

Creativity isn’t exactly something Oliver is lacking. In fact, it seems to almost be something she was destined to do, whether within food or other fields. Her life began in music, as a member of the band Rip Rig + Panic, but also through immersion in a social circle that seemed to hum with musicians and creatives. When I enquire about the move from food to music, Oliver makes it clear that this wasn’t so much a jump as a progression. “Food has always been there,” she explains. “Even when we were in Rip Rig + Panic, Neneh (Cherry) and I used to cook for everybody the whole time. We were quite weird teenagers, I’ve got to say. We would have these massive parties and we’d go, right, what will we do with the mackerel? It’s like, most teenagers don’t sit around sousing mackerel. What a bunch of weirdos.”

Oliver and Neneh would cook for an ever-growing group of their friends and Neneh’s brother’s friends and band members. From how Oliver describes it, there was something of a cult following growing for musicians passing through who were after a dose of home by the way of their chicken and rice and peas. This progressed to Oliver cooking at iconic nightclub The Globe in West London. “It was this late night crazy club off of Powis Square. We would be making chicken and rice and peas and slaws and salads and baking cakes and doing all sorts. People would go down to the club and get very, very wasted and then come up at 2am, starving, and we’d have this massive array of food. And that was the first time I really thought about food being a path that would take me outside of my home, I guess.”

Since then, her multifaceted career has spanned everything from cooking to writing to television – most notably as judge and then presenter of The Great British Menu. She lights up when I ask about her work in television, gushing about the team she works with on GBM and the joy of eating so much incredible, innovative food from such exciting chefs. But it’s when we touch on the idea of being a woman, and particularly a Black woman, in this sphere that I feel the significance of her role – both on TV and in the kitchen – really shines through.

“I take the responsibility quite seriously. I’m a 59-year-old Black woman and, you know, there’s not many of us on the telly. There’s more than there used to be, but I think me being there is important and I’m aware of that,” she tells me. “I have women of all colours and shapes and sizes coming and speaking to me all the time and telling me how grateful they are that I’m visible to them on the screen. After a certain age women start to feel invisible and they start to feel like nobody really gives a shit, and I’d beg to differ. Your age or your size or anything should not be an impediment to living your life to the fullest.”

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Her visibility as a woman is not just significant within the television industry but also the food industry as a whole, an area Oliver agrees has a way to go in terms of its treatment of women. “I think that as women we are patronised in the kitchen,” she tells me. “I’ve definitely been in a situation where I’ve been with two older white men – I’m not talking about Oliver and Matthew by the way (Oliver’s GBM colleagues) – and they will give their opinion about, say, how a piece of fish is cooked. And I’m like ‘I like this fish, I think it’s cooked well and I’m enjoying it.’ They’re like ‘It’s not that,’ and I’m like ‘Mate, I’ve told you what I think. You think something else. You being 75 and an old white man doesn’t make you more right than me.’

“I think it’s purely just because that’s what they’ve been taught,” she laughs. “It’s like, if you try to rock that boat or shake that apple cart, they’re astonished and not very happy about it because they’re used to being in charge and being the voice that is listened to. And I just think we need to make room for other voices, other opinions, other ideas and other cultures,” she says. Oliver herself is working to help make space for these voices, partnering with Be Inclusive Hospitality and the Oxford Cultural Collective, an organisation that is aiming to launch a new culinary institution that will hero all cuisines and cultures in its teachings.

It’s safe to say that Andi Oliver’s career path hasn’t exactly been a linear one, but it also seems like this is exactly what suits her. As she admits herself when we touch on how glaringly different every day looks for her at the moment, “I’m naturally quite a hyperactive person, and my brain is generally on several different things at once anyway, so it actually really suits my temperament.” It’s hard to think of someone so visible in the food world who still has such a strong connection with the day-to-day of the job – gracing your TV screen one moment, and popping up in a kitchen in Hackney Wick the next. Hers might be a full career, but it’s one that, no matter the format, has continuously woven this story of Oliver as a Black British woman. Whether it’s the upcoming book, her flavour-packed Dishpatch menu or feeding endless hungry revellers outside a nightclub at 2am, Andi Oliver will always be radiantly, loudly, unabashedly herself, and I think we could all do with taking a leaf out of her book.