Angela Malik grew up in Edinburgh before training as a chef at Leiths School of Food & Wine in Shepherds Bush. She is known for combining exciting flavours with seasonal British ingredients and is a recognised expert in Asian food. Angela has made regular appearances on shows such as Sunday Brunch, This Morning and Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet, and she also teaches regular classes in Indian cookery at Leiths School of Food and Wine. This week, we’ve see her competing on the Great British Menu, which airs at 7.30pm every night on BBC 2.
You’ve built up some great experience on camera, yet you were nervous about starring on the Great British Menu, why was that?
I felt confident in my ability to create great flavour combinations, but I was worried about presentation. I’m not a restaurant chef, and I was up against guys who do it day in, day out. They’d been preparing for the show all year, whereas I had a month to get ready. I was initially supposed to be a judge, but when I asked one of the producers why there were so few women cooking for the judges, she said they really struggled to find applicants. She said “We need people like you on this show”.
The idea of cooking competitively on television was so far out of my comfort zone, you wouldn’t believe it. Yet sometimes we underestimate ourselves. I really felt I wanted the next phase of my career to help promote female chefs. I thought, ‘If not me, then who?’ I didn’t want to stand by and let the pattern continue. I decided I had to push myself to stand up and say ‘Of course I can do this’.
So what was it like cooking on camera?
In fifteen years of cooking, this was my biggest challenge! Of course it was physically exhausting; you start at 6am and don’t finish until 11pm, and you’re standing on your feet in a hot kitchen. It was also a huge psychological challenge. You’re in your element, then you have to stop and taste someone else’s food, or there’s another interruption, and before you know it, it’s ten minutes until service. You want it to be perfect. The dishes I planned were way too complicated so it was partly self inflicted!
Were the judges and the other contestants friendly?
Nathan Outlaw was lovely and very supportive. Michael was an absolute gent, a real chef’s chef. He really knows his craft. To be honest everyone was great. It was a very competitive environment but they were cool as cucumbers. One of the contestants had actually been spending one day a week over the past year in a test kitchen preparing. I was the rookie!
Nonetheless, I’m proud I was the first Asian woman on the show and first woman to represent Scotland.
Your savoury ice cream sounds intriguing…how did you come up with the recipe?
I began with the idea of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, because we were all cooking for the chance to cook at a Taste of Summer banquet celebrating 140 years of the Wimbledon Championships. Then I thought about how to give fruit a twist. I love putting fruit with savoury… the Mexican dish of watermelon with chilli and salt, Berry Gazpacho, strawberries with pepper or balsamic vinegar. Then I had the idea of scallop ice cream to use British scallops. I didn’t think it was particularly ‘out there’, but the judges did! They were supportive but they didn’t think it would work. You’ll have to wait and see whether it did!
On Tuesday we’ll watch you preparing sashimi. Is it difficult…could people do it at home?
Well training as a sashimi chef takes seven years, and there’s a real art to it, so that’s not really something you could do at home. But curing is hugely accessible. Marinating a salmon loin in gin and soy, letting it sit, then slicing it very thinly and having it with salad; that’s all about the quality and freshness of the fish you buy.
Why did you pick it as a dish?
I did some reading and it turns out tennis players are so depleted after a match, they need high levels of nutrients, and Andy Murray can eat 40 pieces of sashimi after a match.
I wanted to make something he’d like, as the show was all about competing to cook at Wimbledon and he is of course Scottish too!
Your picnic menu sounds gorgeous! Do you go on picnics yourself?
The word ‘picnic’ makes me think of my childhood, when we used to go to the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and eat Indian picnic food. That really was a lavish spread, and it was a lovely juxtaposition; smelling and eating this exotic food designed for hot weather while sat on a woolly tartan rug!
What’s your favourite summer dish?
Summer is my favourite season! I associate the taste of mangoes with summer. We used to wait for mango season, when my father would bring the first box of mangoes home. It’s the taste of my heritage.
On Thursday we’ll see you cook a very complicated dessert. How do you stay calm in the kitchen?
One thing my Leiths training has instilled in me is the absolute importance of a time plan. In high pressure environments you need a checklist of all the elements on the plate. That’s one of the disciplines I have taken through my whole career. For some reason, I managed to abandon this wisdom on Thursday. For my dessert course, I’d made an edible golden spun lace to symbolise a tennis net, but I put that in the dehydrator machine, forgot about it, and the judges never saw it.
I should have remembered the advice of my Leiths teachers!
How do you feel now the challenge is over?
The message from all of this for me is to know who you are. You might think you can’t cook at a certain level, perhaps because you’re not a Michelin starred chef, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know food. For me, a food career shouldn’t be necessarily be about achieving a certain rank, but about knowing your craft, learning to be more open and sharing knowledge across all levels.
The great thing about Leiths is that people go out into the food world and do amazing things, but we still maintain our links with each other, and I’d like to see that across the wider profession.
- For a full episode guide of Great British Menu, click here.