Ainsley Harriott: “I talk to my ingredients when I cook” | TV and radio


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gwhile rowing, television was the only form of entertainment in the home, aside from our volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, which were so huge and filled with so many thin pages that we only reluctantly sent them back for schoolwork . Otherwise, we would gather as a family in the dining room, where there was a television. I was the youngest of three and that’s where we watched all of our shows.

Probably the biggest influence on me has been Animal Magic with Johnny Morris. It really stood out to me because I loved the way he talked to animals, much like Dr Dolittle, and told us about their lives. It was amazing to see animals in different parts of the world too – it made them seem a lot friendlier to us and for me it started a lifelong connection with animals and pets.

Johnny Morris gets close to a llama at the West Midland Safari and Leisure Park, Worcestershire, in 1977.
Johnny Morris gets close to a llama at the West Midland Safari and Leisure Park, Worcestershire, in 1977. Photographie: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy

As a child, we had rabbits and, later, dogs. I have a golden labrador now called Bobby, and I sometimes talk to Bobby like Johnny Morris. It was one of those voices that we instantly associated with something – like David Attenborough – and it stuck with me, so much so that I sometimes do it with food too. I have a conversation with the ingredients when I cook in the kitchen!

Later, I started to discover and love everything that was lightly related to cooking. I couldn’t get into Fanny Cradock and her shows, but I used to watch Chef Graham Kerr and his show The Galloping Gourmet, imported from Canada. I still have one of his books in my office.

Graham Kerr, the galloping gourmet, in action.

I was absolutely impressed with the way he enthusiastically cooked and the way he always looked at the camera to engage us in the food. He would dress flamboyantly, in a shiny jacket or suit, and jump around the set – he was so excited and he made everything look so glamorous. The payoff at the end of the show was inviting someone from the studio audience to the stage to taste the food – and the look on their faces has always pleased me. It made me want to taste the same things and bring the same pleasure to others.

My mom was a fabulous cook and, because my dad was an artist, she always had people over for dinner. As a child, I would sit under this grand piano we had and observe the people who came and the joy my mother’s plates brought them. I remember the looks on people’s faces when they told her it was beautiful. All of this certainly made me want to be a cook, because of the instant satisfaction and gratification you can get from what you just did.

Ainsley Harriott’s Food We Love begins April 10 on ITV at 11:35 am; The Mediterranean Cookbook starts April 20 on ITV at 7:30 p.m.

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