Cooking is about pleasure, about pleasing yourself and pleasing others, says Claudia Roden.
How did you become a cookbook writer?
I was born in Egypt. After spending three years at school in Paris I came to study art at St. Martins in London. I lived in a flat with my two brothers and I cooked for them and for our friends.
I started collecting recipes when Jews left Egypt after the Suez crisis in 1956 and my parents joined us in London.
During the next decade, I saw waves of relatives and people from Egypt who stopped over in the city.
Everyone was asking for recipes and offering theirs. We might never see each other again but we would have something to remember each other by. I saw it as all-important to record as much as I could.
I took down everything they said:
- "You know that there is enough flour when the dough feels like your earlobe."
- "Rub the toasted hazelnuts with your hands then go out in the garden and blow the skins off."
- "Mince the meat three times through a fine mincer then pound it to a paste."
Every recipe was precious. There had been no cookbooks and we were all concerned with keeping a link with the life we left behind. I tried and retried the dishes and became a lover of cooking and food.
What are you up to at the moment?
I have just finished a book on the food of Spain. It was a challenge and incredibly thrilling to eat my way through the country.
What are your favourite foods?
Foie gras, scallops, bream, lamb, beef, Alphonse mangoes, artichokes, aubergines, rice, potatoes, and lots more.
What are your favourite recipes?
I’ve got too many favourites because I’ve cooked so many dishes from different countries – in one book alone I tried more than 800 - and with every book I find more to love.
What inspires you when you’re cooking?
Remembered dishes, the memory of appealing textures, and delicious flavours and aromas that I try to recreate – because I am dealing with tradition.
What’s it like in your kitchen? Clean, messy, noisy, quiet?
My kitchen is messy. When I cook, I have the radio on – I’m addicted to news and also listen to music. It is the heart of my house. That is where I am when I’m not in my study. Whoever comes, goes straight to the kitchen and that is where we stay. Whatever time it is, I always feel compelled to offer something to eat.
What’s your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
My favourite kitchen utensil is a knife that I have just lost.
What’s the latest over-hyped fad we should avoid?
The so-called super-foods. They are over-hyped.
What’s your food philosophy in a single sentence?
Cooking is about pleasure, about pleasing yourself and pleasing others.
What do you love most about cooking?
I get a lot of pleasure from cooking good things for people I love, or like, or whose company I enjoy.
Do you ever use cookbooks – and whose?
When I am researching the food of a country I read a lot of cookbooks of the country to compare, understand and complement what I am discovering and being told on the ground.
Which suppliers/producers do you think stand out from the crowd?
The butchers at Borough Market.
What tips would you give to members of lovefood.com?
When you follow recipes you must also follow your own instincts, your good sense and your taste.
If you could invite four guests to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite and what would you cook?
My parents and my brother who died, also the brother who lives near me, his wife, my children and their families. That is how we all ate together every Friday night when they were alive. I would cook Spanish dishes – a fish soup, a paella, a lamb stew with honey, an orange flan.
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