As the winner of Celebrity MasterChef and author of five cookbooks, actor and presenter Nadia Sawalha is certainly no slouch in the kitchen.
Food has always been a big part of her family life, and Sawalha happily reminisces about her mother’s obsession with French cuisine and the mouth-watering Arabic food from her father’s side.
The fact that Sawalha’s first-ever cookbook is called Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved My Life gives you a taste of how important food is to her, and how big a part it plays in her life.
So, what are Sawalha’s culinary memories, the ones which have shaped her relationship with food?
Her earliest memory of food is…
“My dad’s mantra is ‘food doesn’t feed the body, it feeds the soul too’ and my memories of food as a kid are huge family get-togethers. My mum is British but a real Francophile, so she cooked French bistro food during the week. Then my Arab family would descend on weekends and the house would be turned into an Arabic tent. We’d have music and my dad would puff cigars around the house to create an atmosphere – even though he didn’t smoke, it was so funny.
“We’d have huge dishes of roasted meats and homemade breads and syrupy pastries and beautiful food. I’ve got pictures of me and my dad cooking a whole lamb in my garden; burying it and cooking it. I learned how to cook by osmosis, because all the family would come round, and they’d be chatting and chopping and gossiping. I loved being in the centre of that.”
Her culinary high moment is…
“My husband [Mark Adderley] and I have a TV production company, and off the back of winning MasterChef, we made a fantastic series for the BBC called Eating In The Sun. Every episode a famous chef – I’m talking about the best, like Jean-Christophe Novelli – sent me to their favourite holiday destination, where they had their most memorable meal, and I had to recreate it.
“I was going into 3-star Michelin restaurants, it was absolutely terrifying, and I was breastfeeding at the same time. I didn’t know who the chef was until I put the food on the table.”
The worst disaster in the kitchen is…
“When I was cooking on the Lorraine show, it was live, and I very full of myself. I thought, ‘Oh people probably don’t know how to separate an egg, let me show you – it’s very easy’. I went to separate the egg, broke it, dropped it, and it’s haunted me ever since.
“In fact, when I did celebrity Family Fortunes, they brought out all these bloody eggs and made me separate them. That was proper full-on humiliation on live television!”