Mo Gilligan: ‘I did bake biscuits in lockdown, but it’s too much faff – I’d rather buy them!’ | Comedy

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At home, my mum did the cooking. It was me, my two sisters and my mum. She mainly cooked Caribbean dishes: mutton and rice, curry chicken and rice, sometimes curry goat, rice and peas, but that would be for a wedding or something. You wouldn’t have curry goat all the time. It’s mad when I think about it, because when you’ve got kids and you’ve just come back from work, I can see how easy it is to put some chips in the oven. But my mum was always cooking from scratch. To this day, she still does it.

We couldn’t afford the supermarket. My mum would get a lot from the markets, predominantly East Street or Brixton Market. We’d eat a lot of fish: snapper, sometimes red bream. It’s only since I’ve gotten a bit older that I’ve had other fish, like sea bass for example. Yeah, we weren’t eating sea bass.

My dad’s Rastafarian and he’s vegan. He used to grow all his own vegetables – it’s almost part of the Rastafarian religion really. We’d go to my dad’s house a lot on the weekends and everything would be fresh: he’d grow his own tomatoes, his own lettuce. So I’ve always been around fresh produce before it became like, you’ve got to have five a day. It was just the norm.

We didn’t ever measure food. A teaspoon of seasoning? It doesn’t happen. You just chuck it in and keep going.

A treat would be a Chinese on a Friday. Pizza Hut was a big, big deal. I remember the Viennetta advert, the way the chocolate would be on top and then the knife would cut it and it would all crackle. If you bought KFC, you would get it with a KFC meal as the dessert. And it just looked like: “Wow, you eat Viennetta, you must be rich, man.”

In my standup, I talk about “broke people’s meals”. One of my personal favourites as a kid, when my mum would be a bit skint, was corned beef and rice. Even as an adult now that is one of the best meals. The way my mum would make it is that she’d fry the corned beef with some onions, put some plum tomatoes in, some all-purpose seasoning. Before you know it, this corned beef is looking like a real dish. You have it with some rice, a bit of hard-dough bread, some plantain, and let me tell you something, that is a banging – banging! – meal that will serve five people for two nights for £10.

When you’re on the road, as a comic, you really eat bad. You go to service stations, fast food. If you’re about to go on stage, you don’t want to have a heavy meal because I’m quite a physical comedian and I sweat a lot as well. And after you finish your adrenaline is so high that you are really hungry. Coming back from a late-night show at 12 o’clock your only option is a kebab and then you got to catch a train back to London.

I know some comics who pack their own food. They might take aplastic container of pasta or something. I tried it once with a microwave curry I had. Ate it, fine. Then in the night I got food poisoning. So I was like: “I’m never doing that again.”

If I’ve got a long day where I’m doing a Masked Singer or a Masked Dancer, you want to eat healthy, but foods with slow-burning energy. Something like a sweet potato salad, with rice on the side, that’s perfect. I remember early on, I think it was on The Big Narstie Show, one of the runners was like: “I can get you a Nando’s.” And I was like: “Ahh great, I’ll just get a quarter chicken with chips and salad.” I could just feel it sitting on my stomach for the whole time we were filming.

In lockdown, I did bake biscuits. The first time I put the whole egg in, and I realised: “Oooh, these biscuits taste a bit like egg.” Then I had the wrong flour and I had to get the right flour. Then I had the wrong sugar. I got them right in the end and it was great, but at the same time, I was like: “That’s too much faff for some biscuits, man, I’d rather just buy them.”

I’ve always been surrounded by chicken: jerk chicken, curry chicken, brown stew chicken … what you can do with chicken is so amazing. I tried to be pescatarian, but after six months, I just had to have a massive piece of jerk chicken. How other cultures use this meat fascinates me. If you think you’ve had everything with chicken, someone will show you something you’ve never had before.

Everyone says they make the best mac and cheese, but I think mine is up there. I use pretty much every type of cheese known to man: so I’ll use mozzarella to get that nice stringy effect, put a bit of red leicester on, obviously mature cheddar. Sometimes as well I crush up some Wotsits and sprinkle that on top. I can’t say that’s my invention. I saw another guy’s done it, but he’s done it with Doritos, so I thought, “I’ll try it with Wotsits.” When I did my show [The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan] we had Kelis on there and she’s a big cook as well. So we made a version of my mac and cheese and her one. And even Kelis liked it.

My favourite things

Food
It has to be brown stew chicken, rice and peas, with salad and coleslaw, and maybe some plantain on the side. Preferably cooked by my mum because I know my mum’s flavours so well. When people say, “What would your death row meal be?”, it would probably be that. It’s just comfort in food.

Drink
I love a mojito. That drink is so superior. I like them quite sweet with a lot of sugar and mint and the rinds. Sometimes you might even get the occasional little green fly in there as well – that’s added flavour.

Restaurant

Tough one, but I’ve got to say After Hours in New Cross. It’s open till midnight, and while everyone else is getting a kebab, I’m going home with rice and peas and plantain . That’s top-tier for me, man.

Dish to make?
It would have to be my jerk chicken wings. That’s the one thing that people come over to my house and they’re like [surprised]: “Oh, these are really nice! Have you made these yourself?”

The new series of The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan starts on 23 July on Channel 4; Mo Gilligan and Friends: the Black British Takeover is at the O2 Arena on 8 December 2021

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