Review: Buying Knives, Borrowing Recipes and Stealing Our Attention

A New Cookbook by Lesbian Chef Allegra McEvedy

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the world; once you’ve assumed fire, the other two essentials for cooking are knives and ingredients.” The first line of Bought, Borrowed, and Stolen, the new cookbook by lesbian celebrity chef Allegra McEvedy, gives clear insight into her view of the world’s cuisine as something communal, indispensable and conquerable.

A star of BBC television and radio and a veritable gastronomical icon in the U.K., McEvedy is still little known to Americans. This is her fifth cookbook to date (though only the second available in the U.S.), and it is truly a truffle in the forest of your bookstore’s cluttered cookbook shelves.

Culled from the extensive hand-written and illustrated food diaries she has been keeping since the age of ten, the book is a collection of stories, knives and recipes from her travels around the world. The recollections compelled her to recreate her favorite “taste memories” and pose an accessible way for readers to eat their way around the globe within the comfort of their own kitchen.

McEvedy considers herself a “knife freak” like Julia Child (who coined the term), and her extensive, exotic collection of knives is beautifully documented in the book by photographer Andrew Montgomery. Each recipe is mouthwateringly photographed too, and the organization of the book by regions of the world rather than the typical appetizer, entrée, dessert standard attests to its literary function as a travelogue more than simply an instructional manual.

Perhaps what makes this one of the most accessible and fascinating cookbooks of recent memory are the stories that McEvedy tells. In concise, smart, sometimes hilarious prefaces to each region and recipe we learn intimate details of McEvedy’s life and travels, and the history of the people who first created these dishes for her. It reads like a memoir, and it’s a book she says “I knew I wanted to write for years.”

“It was based on something honest and true,” she adds. “I started to realize I had all these diaries full of recipes and drawings, though I can’t draw at all. And I would come home and try again and again to recreate these dishes and these taste memories from places as far as Beirut to New York City.”

She concedes that she’s adapted some methods and swapped some ingredients to make these recipes “accessible… and in the odd case just downright possible” for the home cook. But the book is brimming with astoundingly creative ideas, shockingly simple ingredients, and wonderfully vibrant flavors.

A recipe from Barbados of Caribbean buljol, described as salt cod with lime and thyme and served on crackers, is exceptionally simple but bright, crisp, and unlike anything most American home cooks have ever tasted. And with quick, easy gems like Turkish olive walnut tapenade and Malawian chiponde (a high-nutrition peanut butter), to adventurous endeavors like Cuban rabbit lasagna and Lebanese kibbeh with tarator (meat croquettes with cucumber-yogurt sauce), there is something for everyone in these pages.

A must-have for the collection of any foodie, chef, knife-lover or traveler, Bought, Borrowed and Stolen will hopefully bring more of McEvedy’s superb cooking to the world, as she has so eagerly brought some of the world’s best cooking to us.

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