Posted 20th Sep 2012
Allegra has a new TV series, Turkish Delight with Allegra McEvedy, exclusive to the Good Food channel from Sunday 11th until Thursday 15th November 2012 at 10pm (Sky 247/Virgin 260)
This autumn sees the launch of the Fairtrade Foundation's Big Fair Bake campaign. LandLove's Natalie Mason talks to Fairtrade patron & renowned British chef, Allegra McEvedy, and gives us the history behind some of our greatest British bakes
The Big Fair Bake is a great excuse to put your best apron on, take your mixing bowl out and get ready to rustle up that cherished family recipe. The aim of the campaign, which runs from 24th September to 7th October, is to get the whole nation baking for others using Fairtrade ingredients in support of Fairtrade farmers across the globe.
Some of Britain's best chefs including Mary Berry, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Baker Boys Tom and Henry Herbert and of course Allegra McEvedy, will be taking part, each creating their own recipes inspired by Fairtrade farmers and workers.
Allegra's entry, an orange blossom, cashew and semolina cake, was initially inspired by the classic lemon polenta cake that she used to make at The River Café, now re-worked with her own twist.
'The cake has a Middle Eastern take on it and I also really like introducing herbs into puddings, I think they work very well so there's the added element of rosemary syrup. It's a really easy cake to make,' Allegra explains.
Allegra McEvedy has worked with the Fairtrade Foundation for six years and was made a patron earlier this year. Allegra has been cooking professionally for over twenty years, achieving many accolades in that time including an MBE awarded in 2008. She has worked in some of London's top restaurants as well as co-founding healthy fast-food group LEON, writing five of her own cook books, contributing to the likes of The Guardian and Evening Standard, and appearing on many television and radio shows.
Things could have turned out quite differently for the chef, having first decided to become a conventional barrister. 'The way I see it is when you find something you love it doesn't feel like work' and there have been many highlights since that love was found.
'One of my biggest career highlights was when LEON was named 'Best New Restaurant in Great Britain' at the Observer Food Monthly Awards, which was a great honour having only been open six months when we won. It was a really wonderful moment to know we were making something good using simple, sustainable produce,' an ethos Allegra has followed throughout her career.
Despite her busy schedule Allegra has continually showed her support for healthy, sustainable food and great British produce. 'I am very comfortable about supporting British farmers and our fish trade, we have such fantastic fish in this country. I also really love root veg, turnips, beetroot and kohlrabi which you don't see much of nowadays, and in the summer you can't beat the English butter lettuce.'
Seasonality is key, Allegra explains, 'I have been cooking for twenty years now and I have a real understanding about seasonality. People often ask me how you know when something is in season and I say go to your supermarket, look at the produce label and where it comes from and if it's from Britain then you know it's in season. I think people are slowly becoming re-tuned to seasonality which is great.'
But it's tradition and heritage that are often at the heart of Allegra's cooking. 'The idea for my new book was based on just that, I wanted to collect family recipes. My mum died when I was 17 and she was a really good cook but very few of her recipes survived. I wanted to be able to pass on some tradition and heritage to my two-year-old daughter, so collected recipes for my new book that I feel are must-have hand-me-downs for her and for all new cooks.
'I want to show the importance of handing down traditions. My lovely Godmother died earlier this year and the one thing I asked her for before she died was her recipe collection. Nowadays people don't cut out recipes as much, it's all about printing online recipes, making them, then throwing the bit of paper away. It's a really disposable culture and I hate that. Ingredients like lard are important but some people just don't know they exist!'
So, with that in mind and your Big Fair Bake hats firmly on, you might be dreaming up a decadent Victoria sponge or sumptuous treacle tart from a generations-old recipe (not forgetting the lard!). But, have you ever wondered where these wonderful bakes first came from?
Take the bakewell tart for example, the family favourite just so happens to be one of our greatest culinary mistakes. There are many versions of the story but legend has it that the infamous tart was created one evening in the Derbyshire White Horse Inn, when a cook was asked to make a strawberry jam tart but accidently poured almond mixture onto the jam, rather than using it in the pastry.
The shortbread biscuit endured an equally strange development, originally starting life as dried out leftover bread dough. Gradually ingredients were replaced with the likes of butter and sugar, and shortbread as we know it was created.
Other treats like rock cakes were hugely popular during war rationing due to their small quantities of egg and sugar, a recipe that hasn't changed much in the past ninety years. A similarly frugal dessert is the treacle tart, orginially invented as a means to use up left over bread.
If you're now feeling inspired to get the cake tin out and recreate one of our great British classics, then get involved and join in the fundraising for Fairtrade by baking at home or even arranging a bake sale - head to www.fairtrade.org.uk/bigfairbake for more information.
Click here to check out Allegra's orange blossom, cashew and semolina cake recipe.
Allegra's latest book, Bought, borrowed and stolen: recipes and knives from a travelling chef, published by Conran Octopus, features Allegra's favourite recipes and tools of the trade collected from her travels around the world.
The book is available from www.octopusbooks.co.uk, priced at £25.