'Bought, Borrowed & Stolen': 20 years of Allegra McEvedy's secrets
Allegra McEvedy has been cooking professionally for more than 20 years, working her way through a batch of restaurants in London, most notably the River Café and the Cow, in addition to stints at American eateries Rubicon (now closed) and Jardinière in San Francisco, and New York's Tribeca Grill. The Cordon Bleu alumnus was chef-in-residence at the Guardian for three years, has had a column in the Evening Standard and a seasonal food slot on Robert Elms' show for BBC London.
McEvedy's fifth book "Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes and Knives from a Travelling Chef" comes out this month. The cookbook traces 20 years of recipes, not to mention knives, from food diaries recorded during her travels. The English chef discusses her favorite fall food, her recently released cookbook and the time she spent on the West Coast, with the Los Angeles Times:
Q: What knife, of your collection, is your current favorite or most used?
A: Well, as you probably can tell I have a bit of an emotional attachment to all of my knives, so although it's hard to choose a favorite I am finding myself reaching for a beautiful example of the craft that I bought in New York about five years ago. It's the younger sibling of one I picked up when I was working at Tribeca Grill in '96; both are made by Michael Moses Lishinsky [of Wildfire Cutlery]. All his knives are full tang meaning the metal extends all the way to the base of the handle. And being someone who embraces difference, I love that he uses heat-treated steel, as opposed to the more fashionable stainless. I also like the fact that it's one of only two knives in my 70 strong collection that I can trace back to the maker. My favorite job for this beauty, where it really excels, is smashing cloves of garlic; Mr. Lishinsky may have created the perfect shape of the flat of the blade with this one purpose in mind!
A: Whilst I was in New York I was aware I was learning a lot about how to cook well and fast, as well as how to run a busy kitchen, but the nascent provenance movement that had been building in California for some time really called to me, and knew that I wanted to learn more. Even though I spent a lot less time in S.F. than N.Y.C., there's no doubt that the time I passed on the West Coast was a lot more seminal in shaping the cook and chef I became. Rubicon was a lovely place to work. It was a calm though busy service, reflecting the attitude of the executive chef who was a chilled-out chap — great cook though! They knew their game very well, and it was exceptional to be able to do pairings with a world wine legend like Larry Stone. Jardiniere was a younger, more boisterous place to work with the super-talented Traci Des Jardins at the helm. Service was more hectic, enhanced by the fact that the opera house would empty directly into the restaurant. From memory, I think Traci had spent some time with Joel Robuchon, as the style of cooking had a toe in the Cordon Bleu, old-school style, where I'd trained, but with a much lighter, modern inflection.
Q: After working here in the '90s, have you been able to visit California and experience the culinary scene?
A: Not as much as I would have liked. But from over here it seems that on the West Coast, in contrast to the East, people are really exploring the local ingredients and embracing their new homeland, whilst keeping their own culinary heritage in mind so you get interesting cross-breeding of cuisines. In New York folks tend to stick to the food they ate back in their mother countries, with no nod to the new world they now live in. Neither is better or worse, the difference is a strength. I love that quote of Frank Lloyd Wright's, "Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles," and I guess from a distance that's what I perceive the culinary scene over there reflects.
Q: From "Bought, Borrowed & Stolen," what destination (of the many you gathered recipes from) would you like most to return to?
A: I think that prize would have to go to Burma, to see how it's changed, if at all. After the military coup of 1962 the new government closed down the borders, and we went quite soon after tourists were allowed in again in '97, so the whole trip really did feel of a bygone age as culturally they were so unaware of how times had moved on. I've been to much poorer places but never to anywhere so unaffected by the rest of the world, which gave it a very weird but serene timelessness. Now that it's a more popular tourist destination, albeit still quite adventurous, I'd be interested to see if that has "spoilt" the magic that I felt.
Q: Fall is underway: Which fruits and vegetables do you find yourself cooking with?
A: Loving the apples and pears at the moment. Also made my first lot of sweet pickled quince. Hold on to your hats, though, as it's about to be the Italian white truffle season, and each year I treat myself to one truffle meal, without holding back on the good stuff! Can I get a quick mention in for fresh nuts too: Our cobnut season has just started, and the wet walnuts won't be far behind. One of the things I like most about being a cook is how it's impossible to get bored in the face of such a relentless barrage of change.
Q: Any upcoming projects?
A: I've just finished filming a show for Good Food Channel over here, promoting British Farms and their produce, which starts on Oct. 23, and there's talk of doing a series next year on the food of Turkey and Lebanon. Despite the fact that traditionally Muslim countries aren't famous for their sexual equality, I've always been very drawn to their food and culture, and there are few sounds in the world that I'd rather wake up to than the lyrical music of the call to prayer flowing from the minarets.
— Caitlin Keller
Photos: Front cover and pages from "Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes and Knives from a Travelling Chef." Credit: Andrew Montgomery