How We Met: Claudia Roden & Allegra McEvedy - 'Her Middle Eastern book was my Bible'

 

Claudia Roden, 77

Born and brought up in Cairo, Roden (left in picture) finished her education in Paris, then moved to London to study art. Drawn to the subject of food as a way of recalling her lost heritage, she revolutionised Western attitudes to Middle Eastern cuisine with her bestselling 'A Book of Middle Eastern Food' in 1968. She has continued to write about food and the social and historical background of cooking ever since. She lives in London

I've known Allegra since she was very little, maybe five or six. I knew her parents and I'd often go to their house for dinner or for one of their lovely parties. It was a home where people cooked good food, cared about food; her mother at that time even had a bistro. Her mother died very young and Allegra was still at school, so I saw her father from time to time and heard how she was getting on. I was fascinated to hear about the things she was going through, even her wild youth.

When she came into my world, the world of cooking, I became very interested in her and in what she was doing. I was once at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts] with some friends for an art exhibition and we were thinking just how wonderful the food was. Suddenly, she came out of the kitchen and it was fantastic to know that she was the one who had cooked our meal. She started doing some great things, working at the Tabernacle [in west London], and when she opened Leon with Henry Dimbleby, people were queuing outside. I went in and there was Allegra in the kitchen, full of energy and doing her thing.

I consider myself very much someone who researches in the field, visiting countries, taking note of everything, researching exactly how they do things. I look at what the tradition is and how that varies through time. Allegra does the same but has her own take on food. She does Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Turkish and her take on it is always sensible and simple, but with much flavour, and it's tasty and healthy.

Apart from her cooking, there is another side of her that I really admire, which is that she is incredibly loyal and someone I could always rely on. One day I told her about my grandson, who was working in catering and wondering what to do next. She knew he wasn't the kind to be a chef but thought he could be an entrepreneur. She met with him, and he was completely taken by Allegra, because she told him about the challenges ahead and what he will learn along the way. That get-together made a huge difference to him and he is now an entrepreneur, making artisan ice lollies in New York, and even has a book coming out in the next few months.

She's my family; I feel so at ease with her, a true friend. It's nice to have a friend who's young and fun. I feel I'm young with her because she's so full of laughter.

Allegra McEvedy MBE, 43

After training at Cordon Bleu in London, McEvedy worked at establishments including the Belvedere and the River Café before landing her first head-chef role at The Cow in west London at the age of 24. The co-founder of the healthy fast-food restaurant chain Leon, her latest restaurant venture is Blackfoot, which opened in December on Exmouth Market in north London. She lives in Shepherd's Bush with her partner and their two children

We first met at the house I grew up in, in Brook Green [in west London]; she was a friend of my parents. It was during the great era of those 1970s dinner parties, and she made a real impression on me with her glamorous ways.

She's had an enormous influence on me. I can sort of map my cooking life through her books. When I worked at the River Café, there were only ever three cookbooks on the shelf and one of them was Claudia's The Food of Italy. There was a time when one of her Middle Eastern books was my Bible; my copy is held together by elastic bands because the spine is broken in about seven places. It just seems she has always been there with the right book at the right time.

I did a TV series on Turkish cooking and she is the absolute go-to woman on food from Africa all the way round to Spain. I remember once I had a fruity salad for my book Colouring the Seasons. It had pomegranates and pistachios and rosewater dressing on top and I couldn't think of a decent name for it. I called Claudia and asked her and she suggested "Salad Scheherazade". It went into the book and I adore it. That salad turned out to be the most-made recipe in that book.

Not only do I love her cooking, but she is also a great documenter. Wherever she goes, be it Egypt or Turkey or wherever, she eats and makes notes then comes back and makes the recipes. There are so many chefs out there trying to reinvent the wheel; she just shows it how it is, but of course in her own style. That's exactly what I've tried to do with my cooking.

When I travel, I carry food diaries – I now have 18 volumes that I've kept over my life and they're fat with notes and little drawings. That sort of chronicling I've absolutely got from Claudia. Using that to feed my recipes and books from places I've visited has definitely come from her.

Claudia has had a life a little bit like Elizabeth David – she's seen a lot, lived a lot and experienced a lot, and her cooking reflects that. The circle of people that she moved with are the people of legends, be it Rose Gray, Madhur Jaffrey, or Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who she took up with in California.

What's fantastic is that our friendship has come out of doing roughly the same thing. Every chef who I rate, rates Claudia.

'Big Table, Busy Kitchen: 200 Recipes for Life' by Allegra McEvedy is published by Quercus, priced £25. 'The Food of Italy' by Claudia Roden is published by Square Peg, priced £25

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones