Retired psychiatrist Dr. Federico Allodi, who was the founder of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, has published his own cookbook.
The large format 375 page soft-cover, A Cookbook and Memories: For Immigrants, Refugees and Travellers, is an astonishing endeavour. First, he draws upon his medical knowledge to create an eight-page introduction where he reveals that food is more than nourishment – it is also a vital part of memory and a record of social history.
The newly retired 83-year-old physician took over the kitchen of his home and prepared all the meals for his wife and visiting grandchildren in his home in Toronto. The relish with which they consumed his cooking and his desire to leave behind a specific immigrant history were the twin forces behind his inspiration. In a multicultural country, which opens its shores to a large refugee population, this cookbook demands a place of honour amongst the virtuoso compilations of trendy North American chefs and gourmands because it represents Canadian cuisine in its totality.
Tantalizing character sketches, travel narratives and family photographs appear as notes to recipes in the cookbook. The young Spanish doctor, who was born in a castle in Cordoba, Spain, states that it was Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway that convinced him to head for England to have a cup of tea. He also felt that the English-speaking population dominated the world of science and economics and this was his motivation to cross the Pyrenees to England and eventually settle in a country that had not had a civil war: Canada.
The book's recipes act as snippets of a character sketch. Croquettes cooling on a window sill in preair-conditioning days of his childhood are seasoned in his memory by the flamenco singing that wafted from the bar below. As a university student, Allodi worked in the Garbanzo fields in summer and ate with all the farm hands. This is captured in the footnote to the chickpea stew recipe titled as "Maria Lozano and the Farm Dance." Here he includes a lyrical response to female beauty where medical terminology is used. "I danced with Maria Lozano an experience that I have never had before or again, and I will never forget it. When I put my hands around her waist, I felt the two slender muscular columns of her lumbar region, strong, firm – pure life and beauty in themselves." Nazneen Sheikh spoke with Allodi about A Cookbook and Memories.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
A senior medical student at a swimming pool in the University in Madrid said, if you read for two hours every day after your lectures, you will succeed in life.
Which fictional character do you wish you had created?
I would say Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid, also mentioned in Homer's Iliad, because he was a refugee looking for a new home.
What questions do you wish people would ask about your work that they don't?
I wish they would have asked about the most important service I have provided to my patients. I would respond by saying that life is a difficult journey, and I have been a companion in that journey using the tools of my profession and kindness. I wish they would also ask: What have your patients given you? I would tell them that I have received the opportunity to create a space where I can pour my sentiments of human solidarity and creativity.
Which book do you think is under-appreciated?
I look to Spanish poetry of the 16th-century here as well as French symbolism. The works of the poet Jorge Manrique, an elegy on the death of his father, is sublime. French symbolist Baudelaire, as well as Rimbaud. To this I would add Ruben Dario, who began modernism in Spanish poetry and literature, and finally Luis de Gongora, who is the Spanish John Donne.
Which books have you reread most in your life?
The romances of Garcia Lorca. They are modern, symbolist, sonorous and musical rooted in Spanish folklore. Shakespeare's Hamlet. I would listen to Laurence Olivier's recordings to train my ear to the English accent. The description of Cymbeline's bedroom inspired me to decorate my own in a similar fashion.
Is there a book you consider to be a guilty pleasure?
American Westerns written by Louis L'Amour. I read these avidly as an adolescent. In Spain, the El Coyote series set in California of the 1800s. These trite and ordinary novels based on the Anglo occupation of the land, properties and liberties of the Mexican people appealed to me immensely. [The film] High Noon is a masterpiece as it reveals the limitations between good and evil. The fictional myths of the Western novels, peddled by Hollywood, seduced the whole world. How could I escape?
What is the best romance in literature?
Don Giovanni. He gave love to women without knowing all the consequences. Yet it is love which changes and redeems him at the end. In the same way, in Lolita, the pervert who loved an underage girl was also redeemed because when Lolita grew up, married and had children, he also truly loved her as a woman.
How do you feel after having written a cookbook?
I am pleased with the result and grateful to my family for their help. As an immigrant to Canada, I have given expression to a compelling choice, which is to be a cultural historian for the future generations of my Canadian family.
Nazneen Sheikh is the author of Tea and Pomegranates: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Kashmir.
This interview has been edited and condensed.