Bestselling author, TV presenter, restaurateur and “caterer with a conscience”, Allegra McEvedy has been cooking professionally for over 20 years.
You’ve been described as a “caterer with a conscience” and are a patron of the Fairtrade Foundation. Please explain your passion for ethical catering and how it translates in your operations.
When I was in my 20s I worked out that what really interested me wasn’t doing posh food for posh people, as I’d been taught at the Cordon Bleu and early restaurant jobs in fine dining or Michelin restaurants. Ever since I’ve been working on making good food at affordable prices for everyone. Ethical sourcing is a part of that social agenda it is at the heart of all my business choices, and why I choose to support Fairtrade.
How did it feel getting your first head chef role at the age of 24?
Amazing…and a bit scary! In truth I was a bit too young and inexperienced but I’ve always been a believer in taking the plunge and learning on the job.
How has your time working in the US influenced your culinary style?
My time in the States gave my food a contemporary edge, and being in San Francisco, particularly at Alice Water’s legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, taught me a huge amount about provenance and sourcing. Alice was the original thinker of farm to fork eating; that all ingredients had a history and their flavour is a direct result of their life journey. This is taken for granted now but in the mid 90s it was truly visionary.
And you worked for Robert de Niro?! How was that?
He was a kind boss – kept himself to himself but was very polite. I’d worked at the River Café in London and he was particularly appreciative of my understanding of authentic Italian food.
As co-founder of Leon, you showed the nation that healthy fast food is possible. Do you consider yourself a trailblazer? Is healthy eating here to stay– or just a passing fad?
LEON was the right idea at the right time, and I think that I have helped other people going into the industry realise that it’s not all about feeding the top 1% of the population. Good food is a
right for all, whether on the go or going out for family meal. And yes, healthy eating is here to stay – becoming more prevalent and important every year.
You were a judge on CBBC’s Junior Bake Off. How important is it to engage children with cooking/baking?
Hugely! For themselves and also for the planet. I’m currently filming a new show for CBBC called ‘Step Up to the Plate’ with Fred Siriex where we teach children how to run a restaurant. Fun, and great life skills.
You worked with Oxford Brookes University to help bring student eating up to date. What advice can you offer university caterers to help them improve their offering?
Stay current, stay relevant and listen to what students’ need for their lifestyles.
Tell us about your work with The Food Chain.
I’ve been involved with The Food Chain for years; they used to deliver food to people with HIV & AIDs and I helped out in the kitchens. In recent years, they’ve been more focused on teaching their users how tofeed themselves nutritionally better through workshops and online support. It’s an amazing charity, and I’m very proud to be associated with their work.
Was being awarded an MBE in 2008 for services to the hospitality industry your proudest moment to date?
It was totally incredible, but nothing beats the first time you see the babies you’ve grown.
You re-launched Albertine, the wine bar your late mother started in the 1970s. What’s the concept and how’s it going?
It’s going great guns!! The concept is a timeless Euro-phile wine bar with great food. We added a restaurant on the 1st floor and a party room on the top floor so it can get very busy!
And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights …
1. What are your three kitchen secrets?
i) If a dish doesn’t taste as yummy as it should once you’ve finished cooking it, a squeeze of lemon and good pinch of salt often brings it round.
ii) Anything that grows below the ground you start from cold water; above the ground goes into boiling.
iii) Pine nuts are a seed, not a nut.
2. What is your favourite ingredient and why?
Pig – so blooming versatile!
3. Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it?
It’ll be my mum’s meringues. Our mum was famous for her puddings, most of all her meringues. When I was trying
to remember her signature dishes to include in one of my cooking books, I asked her friends what their strongest memories were of her cooking and with a wishful sigh many of them said ‘Oh, those amazing meringues’
View Mama’s Meringues recipe here at ………..