Claudia Ro­den and the se­crets of Span­ish cook­ing

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The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

Claudia Ro­den cooks Span­ish

AT A time of life when most cooks might be ready to hang up their oven gloves, Claudia Ro­den is busier than ever. Her lat­est book, The Food of Spain, a Cel­e­bra­tion — the re­sult of five years of re­search, recipe test­ing and writ­ing — has just been pub­lished in the UK and she is al­ready con­tem­plat­ing her next project, an up­date of a pre­vi­ous work, The Food of Italy.

“Since I wrote it, 22 years ago, there are so many new cheese and wine va­ri­eties, and over time I have found some of my recipes need to be re­vised,” Ro­den says. “I have dis­cov­ered a bet­ter ver­sion of one of the gnoc­chi recipes, and some of the oth­ers sim­ply no longer have a good enough rea­son to be in there any­more”

As part of this project — which should take a year — she plans fur­ther re­search in Italy, where new photos of the food, and the coun­try, will be shot.

She is de­lighted with the UK edi­tion of her Span­ish book, with its cover of deep azure with a bor­der of an in­tri­cate Moor­ish de­sign in green, cream and gold. In­side, the pho­tog­ra­phy by Ja­son Lowe is sim­ple and stun­ning. “To com­pete with the books of the celebrity chefs, cook­ery books must be beau­ti­ful nowa­days, and I’m re­ally pleased with how it has turned out,” she says. (Three recipes adapted from the book ap­pear on these pages.)

Ro­den taught her­self Span­ish to re­search the book, and be­came some­thing of a de­tec­tive on mat­ters of the coun­try’s Jewish past. “I vis­ited one of Madrid’s top restau­rants, and was in­tro­duced to the head chef Je­sus San­tos. I told my com­pan­ion: ‘He is de­scended from con­ver­sos, I can­tell­by­his­name’.suree­nough,when­hecame to talk about the food, we dis­cov­ered he was.”

Con­ver­sos were Span­ish Jews who con­verted to Catholi­cism rather than be ex­iled in the ex­pul­sion of 1492. Huge num­bers did so, but many fam­i­lies (known as mar­ra­nos) con­tin­ued to prac­tise Ju­daism se­cretly. Even un­til the 19th cen­tury, they feared be­ing ex­posed by the In­quisi­tors and im­pris­oned or even burnt at the stake. Mar­rano also meant pig, as many con­ver­sos con­spic­u­ously ate pork in or­der to pro­tect them­selves from sus­pi­cion.

Jewish di­etary rules were one of the ways in which mar­ra­nos were outed. Where Chris­tians cooked in pork fat and Mus­lims with clar­i­fied but­ter, Jews cooked with olive oil. The dis­tinc­tive smell of their cook­ing led In­quisi­tors to their doors. Chris­tians were scared to cook with olive oil for fear of be­ing ac­cused of be­ing Jewish.

“Even eight years ago,” Ro­den says “those de­scended from con­ver­sos were ashamed of their his­tory. Now it is al­most fash­ion­able to have those roots. Chef San­tos was happy to say his cook­ing in­flu­ences were Jewish/moor­ish.”

With sev­eral thor­oughly re­searched works un­der her belt, Ro­den is now viewed by many as an aca­demic. “I was a vis­it­ing fel­low at Yale for six months and have also been to sev­eral other uni­ver­si­ties in the US to teach. I am an hon­orary fel­low at UCL and have been asked by SOAS to help PHD stu­dents. Sev­eral of them have al­ready asked me for my help with their re­search” she laughs.

She has also made it into new me­dia. “At Yale I was in­tro­duced to a blog­ger who has cooked and blogged her way through my Book of Jewish Food.”

Many of her clas­sic books are be­ing reprinted in new col­lec­tions. “My French pub­lish­ers are re­leas­ing a new col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing The Book of Jewish Food and The Food of Spain along­side a book on French haute cui­sine writ­ten by four food his­to­ri­ans. In the US, the book has been nom­i­nated for a James Beard award — the high­est award in the cook­ery book world. It has al­ready won a Gour­mand award in France.”

Ro­den’s in-tray is so stuffed with in­vi­ta­tions to speak at fes­ti­vals and sem­i­nars, she is un­sure whether she will at­tend the awards cer­e­mony in New York. It is a miracle she even finds time to spend in her kitchen. ‘The Food of Spain, a Cel­e­bra­tion’ is pub­lished by Michael Joseph Ltd priced at £25

Ro­den: com­pet­ing with celebrity chefs

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