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My life in food: Reggie Yates on his mum’s jollof rice and a special braai in South Africa

The writer-director and Londoner discusses his Ghanaian heritage, his love of fish and chips and London’s booming immigrant communities.

Published 17 Dec 2021, 10:06 GMT, Updated 20 Dec 2021, 11:20 GMT
Reggie is creative director of Blue Skies dairy-free ice cream, available in Waitrose and Amazon Fresh. Pirates, ...

Reggie is creative director of Blue Skies dairy-free ice cream, available in Waitrose and Amazon Fresh. Pirates, his directorial debut, is in cinemas now.

Photograph by Israel Peters

If there was ever a love language in my family, it’s definitely food and music. In terms of my upbringing, the culture of family and food is huge and a big part of how we’d communicate. My mother and father were born in Ghana and came to the UK as immigrants, so whenever I think about my childhood, and when I think about how that pertains to food, I think about my mother cooking jollof rice — it’s one of my favourite West African dishes. I have very fond memories of jollof on a Sunday with football, music and family. It’s a good feeling.

I went vegetarian a few years ago and, as of May this year, I went pescatarian and reintroduced fish into my diet. I love Eat of Eden in Brixton — it’s Caribbean food but it’s vegan, so you’ve got all the flavour and love that comes with Caribbean cooking in dishes that are generally good for you. In the summer, you can sit on the benches outside in the sunshine and be eating your vegan meat that takes like jerk. For me, it’s not about how much you pay for your meal, it’s more about the environment and feeling you have.

A braai in South Africa is burned into my retina as a very special moment. Prior to becoming vegetarian, I was very much a bog-standard, West African carnivore. I went to South Africa a few times [for documentaries], and one night we were filming in a township in Johannesburg. There was a party with a braai, and I didn’t know what a braai was until that night. It was also the first time I heard amapiano music — South African house music that started to bubble and grow out of the townships in 2012. It was good music, an amazingly seasoned barbecue and a beautiful sunset.  

One of the beautiful things about London is its immigrant communities, and the huge impact they can have on a relatively small area. I love the growth of the South American communities in the Elephant and Castle and Stockwell areas. Suddenly, all these amazing restaurants pop up — that’s really beautiful to see. And when it comes to takeaways, I’m spoilt for choice. I’ve been eating Thai and Vietnamese food since I was a child. There are so many different communities — particularly in the areas of London where I was raised. You name it, I’ve tried it.

My guilty pleasure is really good fish and chips. Especially when it’s raining outside and you have a fire going, and you’ve got either James Bond or a Poirot on the TV — that reminds me of being at my gran’s house. No gravy or curry sauce or all that other stuff — that’s criminal. Just salt and vinegar. Classic.

I really want to go to Vietnam for the food. It’s the flavour and character of it, and it’s so distinctly different to the other cuisines in the East. I’d also like to see more of the Caribbean islands. I’ve travelled a lot, but I haven’t really travelled for me, as opposed for work, you know? So, I think I’ll get a really bad bandana, some dungarees and a backpack, and be that traveller.

Prison pizza in Texas was mind-blowing. I did a documentary where I was an inmate for a week. Basically, they throw in their instant noodles and create a pizza base out of that — all these different packets that congeal and become one big, crispy base. And then they’d have the packet tomato and mustard as the cheese and tomato, and crumbling Doritos as the crunchy topping. And it wasn’t bad! Maybe I was delirious at that point.

I just love food and don’t really have a favourite. It’s like having a favourite song or movie — how you feel determines what you want in that moment. You can taste when something has just been thrown together versus cooked with love and personality. If it’s cooked with love, I’ll be a happy man.

Reggie is creative director of Blue Skies dairy-free ice cream, available in Waitrose and Amazon Fresh. Pirates, his directorial debut, is in cinemas now.

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