How to throw a Christmas party like Andi Oliver

Andi Oliver preps her party
Interiors team

The big-hearted TV chef shares her ‘everyone is welcome’ approach to celebrating the holidays

Chef Andi Oliver is well-known for dishing up tasty food as well as her boundless energy and flamboyant sense of style. She’s been cooking for dinner parties since the age of 12 and has wowed diners on many food and cooking shows over recent decades before becoming a judge on Great British Menu. She also has her own restaurant, Wadadli Kitchen, which she runs with business partner Kelly Miles.

We’d all love a seat at a table like Andi’s so we asked the chef and her TV presenter daughter Miquita for their approach to being brilliant hosts this Christmas.

Gather those you love

Abundance is the word Andi keeps coming back to when describing an Oliver family Christmas. Whether it’s food, fairy lights or family and friends, the chef and presenter’s ethos is always the more the merrier.

At Andi’s home, the door is very much open at Christmas. Visitors include the ‘hundreds’ of relatives that live nearby and a circle of besties including singer Neneh Cherry, film producer Alison Owen (her children Sarah, Lily Allen and Alfie Allen are also regular guests) and Andi’s long-time business partner Kelly Miles. That’s just a small sample of the stream of guests who will enjoy Andi’s great hospitality over the holidays. 

Host a party food

Food, glorious food

When it comes to festive food, it’s no surprise that Andi is in charge of the menu. Favourites are rum and molasses glazed ham, oxtail (for Garfield, Andi's partner of 25 years) and four types of potatoes (at Miquita’s request). Stuffing is made from different types of sausage including merguez, Turkish sucuk or Greek, and the gravy flows endlessly.

When the Cherry family pitch up to join the fun, they bring a Scandi twist. ‘Neneh is Swedish so we do a lot of curing and pickling,’ says Andi. ‘We’ll cure a whole salmon with pickled winter berries mixed in with sugar, salt and vinegar. We make brunkål, which is cabbage with a little vinegar, honey and butter, slow cooked until it goes dark brown, sticky and caramelised. Then there’s Glögg, a white mulled wine with white and redcurrants, cranberries, a little bourbon, vanilla, green cardamom and ginger. It’s absolutely delicious.’ 

Host a party gather your guests

Generosity of spirit

‘I’m really conscious that this can be a very difficult time for some people,’ says Andi. ‘We come from a huge family, so when people have small families, fractured families or no family at all, we try to bring them into the fold. Knowing that we can bring people who really need that love into the bosom of the family, that’s the whole point of Christmas. To share what you have with everybody, including the food and yourself – your time and your energy.’

‘We were poor for a long time,’ adds Miquita, speaking of the years before both their broadcasting careers took off. ‘But it’s not about affluence. Even if Mum had £20 for Christmas dinner, she would find a way to feed everyone. She would buy a bag of chicken, put it in the oven and make it feed 50 people. It’s always been about time spent together, unhooking from the stress of chasing life, chasing work and chasing your own tail. Growing up, I would always see her looking after people and she still does that now. Christmas will always be about each other.’ 

Host a party cocktails

Served in style

You won’t hear any talk of tablescaping at chez Oliver – Andi is incredulous at the idea of creating something purely to show on Instagram. But Miquita insists that making a space beautiful is something her mum has always done naturally. ‘Nothing has to match,’ Andi insists. ‘It just has to be pretty. Our table will have lots of candles, doilies and poinsettias. When I go to second-hand shops, I look out for decanters and gravy boats, and I’m really getting into coloured glass.’ 

The tree is similarly haphazard, the one rule being that it has to be real. ‘And I like it to be slightly wonky,’ says Andi. ‘The tree that nobody else wants.’ As for the gifts underneath, it’s not about expense, but thoughtfulness. Miquita will find something fabulous in a charity shop, while last year Andi made hampers filled with gifts bought in a Moroccan market where she had been filming. 

Host a party tunes

Playlist for the good times

‘Music is the backbone of our daily life,’ says Miquita, whose past jobs presenting Channel 4’s Popworld and shows for BBC Radio 1 make her best qualified to be in charge of the tunes. ‘For Christmas it’s Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5… Hearing Stevie Wonder at Christmas reminds me of the West London flat where I grew up, surrounded by so many people and so much love,’ she says.

Once the tunes are sorted, an excess of fairy lights is non-negotiable. ‘Twinkly, twinkly, twinkly,’ Andi laughs. ‘I love lights around a tree, down the hallway, in the kitchen… lights everywhere. If we’re having Christmas away from home, I take fairy lights with me and platters to display everything we’ve cooked. We once hired a house in Somerset for Christmas and I drove a van down a day early to decorate it,’ she says. ‘By the time we got there, she had created this magical fairyland,’ laughs Miquita. ‘She’s a great host. I can be quite anal – “Is that glass right?” – whereas Mum’s attitude is: “just shove it on the table, make it twinkly, play music and show your love for people.” I’ve learned how to create spaces for people to love each other in through my mum.’

Host a party outfits

Memories to treasure

Andi is known for her joyful sense of style all year round while her partner Garfield brings fun to this occasion with fancy dress. ‘We have a lovely Polaroid of me and my cousin Phoebe as children, wearing matching tutus,’ says Miquita. ‘That tutu was the best Christmas present and that photo reminds me of how Mum has always made Christmas incredible. Even when we had very little, we always had so much love.’ An abundance of love? That’s the key to the perfect Oliver Christmas.

First featured in At Home magazine Winter 2021. Catch up with the digital edition here.

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