B.H.K. Review – Allegra McEvedy ‘Bought, Borrowed and Stolen’

‘Some women collect shoes, Allegra collects knives.’

A cookbook full of ‘Recipes and Knives from a Travelling Chef’.  Allegra’s books are always full of good writing and inspiration, but ‘Bought, Borrowed and Stolen’ inspires with not only the food, but the tools that make it and the personal journey behind each dish.

From San Francisco to Burma, this book is a true labour of love.  Allegra has definitely put in the hard yards here.  It’s an insight into many revealing journeys over nearly a quarter of a century and most of the planet.  Ever seeking sharp edges, shiny people, proper food and other tasty mouthfuls.

I own a couple of Allegra’s books, but this is the best read.  It’s as much a memoir as a gang of recipes; the memoirs of a foodie in love with the world and its diverse cultures and traditions, always lead to culinary adventures, relating directly to the plate and the belly.

Allegra has been out and about, distilling years of travel and great eating into these pages.  There is a real sense of love and passion that comes through in the writing. Allegra seems to get to the heart of each country visited and as we know, the best way a people’s hearts……….are their bellies (or rib cages and I’m sure Allegra will have a knife to suit!!!!!).

Jane gifted me this wonderful cook/travel book for crimbo.  It graces our windowsill turquoise and when opened, explodes with even more vivid colours.  Allegra’s food is always vibrant and challenges the stuffy ‘elite’ of British cooking.  You may know who I mean?!  Unlike most famous chefs, Allegra actually has a great sense of humour!  You are allowed to laugh, enjoy and be natural whilst cooking.  Not fickle or false.  Allegra’s cooking comes from the heart, not an assembly line of egos.  Hoorah!

It’s not a veg cookbook, but there are many veggie options.  The meat dishes can always be played around with; an aubergine here, a pumpkin there and you’ve got worthy substitutes for a slab of beef (sort of).  Allegra’s enthusiasm and talent is prevalent on each page.  The travel writing paints magical pictures of markets, stalls and kitchens encountered along the way.  This is an insight into a real cooks (chefs?!) pilgrimage from working on the ‘line’ to being one of Britain’s best-loved and talented foodie people (chefs?!).

Allegra gave up cooking ‘posh food for posh people’ years ago and since then has commited her time to giving great, affordable food, to the masses; via Leon Restaurants and many other charitable projects.  Bagging an MBE along the way.  Allegra is regularly on TV, her most recent show was ‘Economy Gastronomy’ and to cap it all off (for now), has been made only one of three ‘patrons’ for the fair trade movement.  Allegra is quite a busy lady.

To add to the job list, it appears Allegra may need to build an extension to accommodate her knife drawer!  I am sure it resembles some kind of ancient armoury.  I wonder is she has a spear?  I have one good knife, but this book has wet my appetite for more.  Maybe one of those ‘Oaxacan Whackers’ to have a go at a particularly stubborn beetroot.  Bring on the carnage!

The knives all seem to embody the food culture of the place.  The are all fascinating in their own way, many exhibiting great craftsmanship, many purely barbaric.  My personal favourites are an elegant Japanese Unagi Saki, handle-less; deadly looking, like something a Ninja would carry in there sock.  The Grenadine Scrimshaw is a tasty looking pen knife, the Phoenician Phoenix is ostentatious and the Burmese Machete looks like something you’d reduce a tree to splinters with.

Difficult to say which is my favourite recipe.  There are many.  The Shepherd’s Salad went down well at a Veg. Hen Party I cooked for recently.  The Hens liked the pomegranate.  The Black Sticky Rice is a treat, the Sweet and Sour Aubergine, Rooibos Malve Pudding, the list goes on and on…………..these recipes will grace many a happy occasion in the Beach House.

I love the fact that Allegra has copied these recipes down in situ, in the moment.  Scribbled in one of her many food diaries and then copied down here, straight on the page.  There is no messing with the dishes or ‘dolling them up’, making the food technical and overly complex.  It’s straight from the stall to the page, showing Allegra’s integrity, in honouring foods simplicity and respecting the lineage and tradition of the many cultures cuisines.  How we eat says so much about who we are and the recipes here seem like a true reflection of that.

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Allegra in Malawi

Allegra wears her heart on her sleeve, which makes the book a personal quest for culinary insight, as opposed to a bunch of recipes re-hashed with a tenuous theme.  This is ‘real’ soul food with choppers!

I had the pleasure of working with Allegra for a short time with Leon Restaurants and I can imagine her in these far off places, being charming and impressing all with a passion for good food and good livin’.  Allegra is so kind and genuine, I’m sure this has opened many a doorway.   This book acts as a portal to the kitchens, history and characters of the world (and their cutlery drawers!).

Wherever you are in the world, there’s no better way of giving people joy than by handing them a plate of food made with love … and watching them love it too.”

Cheers Allegra!

Heres Allegra’s site:  http://www.allegramcevedy.com/Allegra/Biography.html

I also recommend the ‘Colour Cookbook’.  It’s cheap on Amazon.

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I feel that cookbooks are generally overpriced and not necessary.  I own three.  Just think about all that amazing produce you could buy with 30 quid!  I have notebooks full of recipes, all very personal and much-loved.  This suit me fine.

I prefer to get my inspiration, like Allegra, through travel and eating as opposed to second-hand in a sumptuously photographed hardbacks (lets face it, you can’t eat photographs, or books for that matter).  I like scribbled recipes and cooking from brilliant memories of taste and occasion.  However, if you are ever going to waste money on a cookbook.  This is the one! 

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A few of Allegras choppers

Categories: B.H.K Reviews, Recipes, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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