Cooking with Heroes Cookbook
Cooking with Heros, published in partnership with St James House, is a fitting tribute to the Royal British Legions centenary year.
This is not just a cookbook but an ode to the 100 regions that the legion has been active in over the past century including the commonwealth and beyond. This hardbound beauty is jam-packed with deliciousness and will keep keen home cooks coming back for more. From finding inspiration for your weekday dinners to cooking to impress your guests, this cookbook will not disappoint.
In keeping with the centenary theme, Cooking with Heroes features 100 profiles of military heroines and heroes specific to each region. To honour each local hero or heroine, recipes have been created by a team of highly skilled military chefs who have delved deep into the profiles of the heroes and the regions they represent. Not only this, many celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Cyrus Todiwala, James Martin, Melissa Hemsley, The Hairy Bikers, Ainsley Harriot, Rick Stein, and Phil Daniels have also contributed their recipes to this amazing cookbook.
The Royal British Legion is the nation’s largest armed forces charity and worked since 1921 to support the armed forces and their families. A portion of the sale from every copy of Cooking with Heroes will help raise funds to ensure that the legion continues doing the amazing work they have been doing successfully for the past century.
Official Book Launch Party
Cooking with Heroes Cookbook’s official launch was hosted over an afternoon tea at Claridge’s in London in October. The event was well attended by military officials as well as members of the media. I was honoured to be invited to this launch event and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon tea at the beautiful Claridge’s in Mayfair, London.
I sampled a selection of artisan food and drink brands at the launch party, do check out the details coming soon in my Christmas 2021 Gift Guide here on my blog!
Author Profile and Q&A
I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with the Author Squadron Leader Jon Pullen (retired). Get to know the Author via some interesting answers he has for my interview questions to him.
Q) How did the idea of ‘Cooking with Heroes’ take root?
A) Cooking with Heroes started with a discussion with Richard Freed of St James’s House (SJH) who asked me whether I wanted to do another book to raise money for the Royal British Legion (RBL). I’d authored 2 previous books, ‘Food for Heroes’ that raised £50-80k for Help for Heroes and with Richard, the RAF100 Cookbook which raised around £145k for the RAF100 Appeal that raised funds for the RAF Centenary.
The idea for the book was really a play on the RBL’s Centenary and what this charity that has supported the Military Family for 100 years means to me. So it started with a plan to write 100 entries, one for every year of the Centenary, with a focus surrounding the charity’s qualities… ideas like remembrance, tradition, integrity, strength, valour, courage, and support. If you turned these ideas into the food they would be home-cooked honest, authentic, traditional food but brought into the 21st Century. In terms of valour and courage, we worked with the RBL around the UK and Commonwealth to nominate someone who has made a great contribution to Defence to represent them, a ‘Local Hero’. And that’s what we have, 100 Regions across the UK & Commonwealth with a story of valour, endeavour, and often sacrifice alongside traditional, old and forgotten foods from that region. A unique idea that I believe properly captures the spirit of the RBL
Q) Inspirational stories are a great way of holding the attention of the reader what is your experience and how did you go about selecting them?
A) I pulled together a team from the Military Family to engage with the RBL across the UK & Commonwealth… this was a Tri-Service Team of serving, veterans, reserves, friends, families and youth services. These became known as our RBL Ambassadors, a role that saw them engage with the RBL Membership in their region and to work with them to select a local hero or heroine who had ‘made a great contribution to UK Defence’ and that the RBL local Membership wanted to celebrate and represent them. The list is astonishing and whilst there are many well-known VC and MC winners in the Book, there are others much less well known like Captain John Perkins RN who was born a slave in Jamaica in the 18th Century and rose to Captain a 32 Gun Naval Frigate; Sergeant Alfred Holmes from Gibraltar who looked after the Barbary Apes for 38 years; Sybil Kathagasu from Malaysia who gave her life standing up to the Japanese invaders during WW2 by supporting British SOE Agents and so many more amazing and courageous individuals who have been chosen as outstanding by the members of the UK’s largest Military Charity, so many of whom are veterans themselves… a wonderful mark of respect that I hope does their memory justice.
Q) Food discussions are common ways of coming together to discuss other issues too. So how was this possible to get so many people to tell their stories? How did you reach out to them?
A) We sent members of today’s Military Family to engage with the RBL Membership. When I started the Project, these were supposed to be sit-down meetings in an RBL club, sharing stories of our service face to face with the Membership and as we say in the Armed Forces, ‘pull up a sandbag and swing a lantern’. The reality was sadly less engaging and fun with the majority of the engagements being over Zoom or old-fashioned telephones. Our team then took the chosen candidate and researched the individual before presenting the article to the editorial team.
I’m particularly proud of one region and that was ‘Tyne & Wear’ where we set up a competition with the County Air Training Corps Squadrons to tell a panel, chaired by me but representing the RBL, the Publisher, and the County, who should be in the Book representing their County. I spent the most wonderful evening watching and listening to presentations from young Cadets passionate about their chosen candidate before having the unenviable task of choosing one: Kate Adie. A superlative choice of a Journalist who spent her career supporting and representing the Armed Forces, always reporting the stories as they really were and never refusing to go anywhere where British Troops were deployed. A truly inspirational choice.
Q) In your travels which cuisine have you most enjoyed discovering and why?
A) I’m that person who leaves the group to find a back street restaurant and ask the waiter what he or she is having for tea… on occasions, this has been a truly bad idea but mostly it gives an insight into the real food culture of the region. There’s no way I can choose a favourite as there’s no experience like trying a new taste for the first time but if I had to choose one it would be the Proustian moment brought on by Cypriot food. Having grown up in Cyprus, the memories that the fusion of Greek and Cypriot Food brings back to me is unsurpassed: Even just a smell of Sheftalia, Dolmades, Stifado, and of course Kleftiko turns me into a sun-tanned 8-year old bare footboy with grazed knees, a voracious appetite and probably guzzling a glass of Kokinelli and Lemonade. Heaven.
Q) In your opinion, what is the single most versatile ingredient?
A) Probably Eggs, I haven’t much to add to the world’s knowledge of the million and one uses of eggs other than to say, even with all of the sweet and savoury uses of Eggs that are out there, nothing beats a properly prepared poached Egg.
Q) What is your signature dish?
A) I think that would be my favourite recipe from the RAF100 Cookbook… the Italian North African (Ethiopia today) Dora Wat. So seldom do we encounter entirely different flavours but that is why the Dora Wat is so amazing. It starts with slowly melting 1.5Kg of Red Onions (that’s a Bag and a half that need thinly slicing so make sure you have plenty of tissues around… it’s going to get emotional) in a pot (that’s the Wat in the title). Once they have melted to a gloop, you reconstitute them with Chicken Stock and the beautiful Berebere spice mix (available in the posh supermarkets but we published the recipe anyway) before adding Chicken and finally boiled eggs… it’s an utterly delicious fiery and sweet red chicken stew and like nothing you’ve ever tasted before… unless your Ethiopian!
Q) Breaking bread together is a great way of bonding; can you share any traditions that you have experienced while you served in the armed forces, that you will always hold close to your heart?
A) As Napoleon observed, an Army Marches on its stomach and this is never so true as after an operation when it is often the opportunity to stop and eat that provides that first chance to relax. The same is when we used to Exercise when I was much younger where the enemy was always an un-named Eastern-Block aggressor and each 3-day scenario became astonishingly similar as the directing staff went through their scripts to check that we were operating as we should. This was just as true with the exercise food where you could tell how well we were doing by the food that arrived. By the time we received the ‘Egg Banjos’ we knew we were on the home straight, that we could remove our respirators (gas masks), that our fictional foes were finally in retreat (again), and that we could perhaps, for a moment, get warm, dry and eat. The Egg Banjo is a humble treat being no more than a runny fried egg between 2 pieces of thick(ish) ham held between 2 pieces of bread. These were brought to us en-masse in hotlocks which were neither hot nor locked, but nonetheless, to this day these eggy treats still brings pangs of nostalgia as perhaps the ultimate comfort food.
But, I hear you ask, why are they called Egg Banjos… in truth it was many years before I worked out why they were so named. I was sat opposite a colleague at the end of one of these exercises, dressed in his NBC suit with dirt and camo across his face as he bit into his Egg Banjo… which subsequently exploded egg-yolk across the front of his jacket. Exasperated but not beaten, he immediately took the Banjo in his left hand, drawing it away from his body so it would drip no more before and with a flourish that any stringed instrument player would recognise as a strum, vigorously wiped the egg off the front of his jacket, looking exactly like an Air-Banjo player. Needless to say, I immediately understood why they are referred to as Egg Banjos.
Cooking with Heroes – The perfect Christmas Gift for all foodies
Why not add this amazing cookbook to your Christmas shopping list? This is bound to make for a fabulous gift for your friends and family alike. A high-quality hardcover book filled with fabulous easy-to-follow recipes and interesting stories of military heroes and heroines with a sprinkling of celebrity spice, what’s not to love?!
Cooking with Heroes is available in all major bookstores including Blackwells, Waterstones, and WH Smith, to purchase RRP £19.95 – with all profits (£5 per sale) going to support The Royal British Legion. Alternatively, you can Order your copy online here
* With thanks to the PR agency and St James House for the invite and a complimentary copy of the cookbook. With thanks to Author Jon Pullen for taking the time to patiently respond to my questions. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. No monetary compensation was offered. Images credit E Jacobs Photography unless stated otherwise