Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 617

13 22 SEPTEMBER 2022 a tomato and red pepper salad, chilli-pepped and lemonsharpened fromher 2021 book, Med, or bulgur wheat and nuts tossed with a pomegranatemolasses, harissa, cumin and coriander dressing, or a slice of yogurt cake. During this year’s long summer, guests gathered frequently in Claudia’s garden. She admits to being no gardener, but enjoying the “wonderful feeling of nature” from the tall trees that mark the boundary and shade the terrace of her property at the end of a cul-de-sac inHampstead Garden Suburb. It’s the home in which she brought up her children, and built, as a single parent, her acclaimed food writing and broadcasting career. It’s really too big for her, she says, but she has no intention of moving, because she enjoys the area – “we have our own theatre groups and choirs and proms, we invite each other to dinner and drinks” – and anyway, what would she do with all her books? “Having people here, sharing ameal, having a good time is what makes me happiest now,” she says. “Last night, my family came, grandchildren too.” Her three children – Simon, Nadia and Anna – all live nearby, her six grandchildren are at university or working. “We had two friends fromHolland, young, the age of my grandchildren. They all helped finish the cooking, bring dishes out, set the table.” Is she a controller? She laughs. “I let themget on. Whatever they do is fine. But when a Spanish friend came to stay, and then a Greek friend who has a cookery school joined us, they insisted on washing up, and the next day, I couldn’t find anything. We had such a good time, though, did simple things. There is somuch pleasure in that.” That family and friends should be so essential to Claudia is not surprising – hers was one of thousands of EgyptianJewish families expelled from the country in the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis. Expulsions were often immediate and citizenships were revoked, with passports stamped ‘one way, no return’. Egyptian-Jewish people sought new lives, eventually settling throughout Europe, the US and South America. Until then, life had been “charmed, a dream”, Claudia says. She grew up with her brothers, Ellis and Zaki in cosmopolitan, middle-class Cairo. Her parents, Cesar and Nelly Douek, were of Syrian-Jewishmerchant heritage. “We were part of a Jewish community in a country already full of minorities. There was an Armenian and a Syrian community, a big Greek one – every grocer was Greek – and an ancient Italian community.” She describes a comfortable, Europeanised life in the introduction to The Book of Jewish Food, with enchanting surroundings of “palm trees, pretty villas and gardens with bougainvillaea, jasmine and brilliant red flowers we called ‘flamboyants’’’. It was common to bemultilingual. The family spoke French at home and the children spoke Italian with their Slovenian nanny. She digresses. It happens frequently, so rich is her memory bank of stories, so ready is she to share them. ‘A dish always means a person, a place. Part of my research has always been to be part of people’s lives, even if for amoment’ Photography: Stuart Simpson/Penguin Random House