Allegra will talk about ‘Big Table, Busy Kitchen’ at the Richmond Literary Festival 2013
It was eight years ago that TV chef Allegra McEvedy received a phone call which still haunts her today. Standing in Shepherd’s Bush she tried to get her head around the news.
The hand-made recipe book created by her late mother – the treasured possession Allegra openly admitted she’d save first if her house were on fire – had been accidentally thrown out by cleaners at her then-publisher’s office, and was irretrievable.
“I was completely gutted. That book was what I had left of the close tie between us. I cried, I shouted, I swore. I felt like all the stages of grief I’d gone through fifteen years earlier ran through me there and then,” she said.
“I was so angry because I felt it wasn’t hers to lose. If anyone was going to lose that book it should have been me. I had to hear that it was on barge heading down the Thames for landfill and there was nothing I could do about it. Over the years, I’ve thought about that moment and I’ve continued to get cross.”
Allegra is perhaps best known for her TV appearances on the Good Food Channel and the BBC’s Economy Gastronomy show. Fans of healthy-fast food firm Leon may also know she co-founded the chain in 2004, and was awarded a MBE for promoting ethical sourcing and healthier eating.
“I had no grand desire to be a chef,” she said. “I went to a very academic school where the right professions to aspire to were doctors or lawyers. I’ve always been good at the chat; I think it’s the Irish blood. I loved debating and I thought I’d be a barrister; I think I’d have been quite good at it.”
But then, when Allegra was 17, her mother died during a liver transplant. This, combined with her recently discovered homosexuality and the confusion that went with it, sent her off the rails.
But at 21, a conversation with her dad made her reconsider her future and she started cookery school.
“I sort of fell into cooking,” she said. “Some chefs say they had their first Oyster at three and all that stuff, but I was just always happy in the kitchen. While my sister loved being in the garden and making mud pies, my natural affinity was in the kitchen making real pies.
“I learnt my home-style cooking from my Mum. She was always at the kitchen table. I can still see her rolling out pastry and making meringues. I think of her most of all at that table.
“Wherever I’ve lived, we’ve always had a big table; it’s the thumping heart of the house. That’s where the title for my new book came from.”
Allegra’s mother’s recipe book was a seventies-style old orange photo album and it was divided into chapters of recipes she’d collected from a young age with titles such as ‘Hot Souffles’ and ‘Steamed Puddings.’
“It was the most viewed book in the kitchen and it was mine when she died,” Allegra recalled. “It was quite tatty which I suppose is why when a cleaner found it under a desk, they threw it out.”
The idea for Allegra’s new recipe book was born one November night three years ago, whilst she was in mother mode for her daughter, Delilah, who was very upset.
“Delilah woke crying in the night, so we snuggled and I calmed her down, but after that, I couldn’t sleep and I got thinking about things,” Allegra said.
“I started to think that rather than feeling hard-done by, I could create my own sort of memory book for Delilah so that she had these things, and in a published form that could never be lost.”
And so, Big Table, Busy Kitchen is a book of recipes dedicated to her three-year-old daughter and created in the spirit of her mother. The chapters start mark milestones in life beginning with baking, as it does for most people, to Broke & Bored for students, which also includes a recipe called Hangover Eggs), through to Impressing the Pants Off, for the dating years and a part two for entertaining friends and family on occasions like Christmas.
“It’s a book of life and there are little snippets of motherly advice in there. I hope Delilah will enjoy it. From the times we cook together now, to when she finds a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and then when she goes on to have her own children.”
In addition to her Mum’s home-cooking, Allegra’s recipes have been influenced by her travels.
”My dad’s a historian so we did a lot of travelling and I’ve always kept food diaries whenever I travel. I like to make a note of what I eat,” she said.
“One of my best food memories is the first time I had caviar. I was about 24 and I remember being utterly blown away. I just thought the salty fishiness from those little eggs was absolutely extraordinary.”
Asked about the impending festive season, Allegra said: “At Christmas I always do the works. While my sister is gifted at having children, I’ve always been better at cooking. I’m not mad on turkey because I think it’s too big for roasting; cooking breasts and legs take different amounts of time, they don’t work together.
“So I do goose. I love that you can stuff both ends so you can have two types of stuffing and honey glazed ham as well as old favourites like Brussels with chestnuts. Some of my favourites are in the new book.”
Allegra McEvedy will be telling the story of her new book “Big Table, Busy Kitchen” and providing a demonstration as part of The Richmond Literary Festival at Bingham Hotel on November 13 at 8pm. Buy tickets at: http://www.richmondliterature.com/.
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