With his infectious smile and bubbly energy, it's safe to say that Ainsley Harriott is a national cooking treasure. We caught up with him to talk about family, food and The Big Lunch!
You grew up in a close-knit neighbourhood. What are some simple ways to bring a community together?
"Opportunities like The Big Lunch. This event is about being able to communicate with your community. What happens after The Big Lunch is you aren't scared of walking with your head up – you recognise people. You might see them in the pub and ask how they are, it's a great starting point.
"All the best relationships start with a cup of tea and a biscuit. It's an old fashioned quality that I love."
Tell us a bit about The Big Lunch. How can people get involved?
"I think the best thing to do is go online and get a starter pack. At the end of the day, it’s about bringing communities together – it doesn't matter what your cultural background is. I think it's so important to slow down and look up, especially in today's modern world. We spend a lot of time looking at our phones, nowadays everything is done through a phone."
What is your go-to dish when the family are round?
"I still think it's the traditional Sunday roast; though I do love a weekend brunch. I love doing a relaxed brunch when friends will pop over. It isn't a specific time, just between 11.30am-1.30pm.
"My kids love my sweetcorn fritters though. They often text me asking if we're having them when they come over."
You've always said that your mum was a great cook. What was your favourite dish of hers?
"She did an amazing Red Pea Floating Duvet Stew. They'd be cow foot and all sorts in there and it would be finished with the dumplings.
"It was a big earthy pot in the middle of the table that everyone ate from – that's the kind of food we all love, like mac and cheese or shepherd's pie. It's a complete shared experience.
"She made some amazing soups based around slow cooked aromatic flavours. As soon as you walked in the house you knew what you would be eating. She used to bake her hard dough bread too, with lashings of butter. I don’t like substituting things like butter; I like moderation."
Ready Steady Cook was a huge entertainment show. What is your most memorable moment from the show?
"I think it would be the mere success for a cookery programme to run for 16 years. One of my standout moments was when Brian Turner couldn't think of what to do with rice, so he did a rice sandwich!
"There are rumours about the show coming back and I think there is room on TV for real food in real time. I don’t know if I would be involved, I’d love to be involved though."
What is one ingredient you couldn't live without?
"Potatoes. You can't beat a bit of mashed tatties. I seem to go to potatoes a lot more than rice."
What is one ingredient you can't stand?
"Cucumber. It gives me a headache. I'm the same with raw melon…I've gone-off fungi as well."
How do you cook a poached egg?
"If you're a beginner then get a cup, put clingfilm in it, crack the egg in, twist the clingfilm at the top and put it in a pot of boiling water.
"If you're a more confident cook, then add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar into a cup with the egg. Put the water on a nice medium simmer, not steaming. Pop it in for 2-3 minutes and out again."
The Big Lunch takes place on this Sunday, 3rd June 2018. To get your starter pack, head to www.biglunch.com.