Allegra Benitah, the daughter of Vanessa Feltz, has turned her passion for baking into a flourishing career. Paul Hollywood watch out! Here’s my chat with Allegra, at her lovely home, for OK!…
Whoever coined the phrase ‘the kitchen is the heart of the home’ might have been referring to the north London abode of Allegra Benitah, daughter of TV and radio presenter Vanessa Feltz.
However, the huge, open-plan space is not only the focus for family life with her husband Dan and their two children Zeke, five, and Neroli, three. It’s the power centre of her blossoming business producing challah (pronounced ‘haa-luh’), a traditional Jewish bread.
Yet despite being a rising star in the baking world, demonstrating her skills on This Morning and, last weekend, on James Martin’s Saturday Morning, it wasn’t her original career plan. She spent five years as a tax lawyer before deciding to devote herself fully to her role as a mother following Zeke’s birth. Her business was a ‘happy accident’ which grew from a rainy day baking activity with the children.
‘I’d never baked challah before but it was a roaring success,’ says Allegra, 33, explaining that the light, dairy-free bread holds its form, making it perfect for creating fun shapes.
And as OK! tastes some of the freshly baked samples at our exclusive shoot, we can confirm it’s as delicious as it looks!
Here, Allegra tells us about her passion for baking and gardening, her high-flying law career and why she’s so proud of her famous mum…
You had an incredible career in law. Was it hard to walk away from? I had a very academic background. I went to a private girls’ school, worked very hard, read law at Cambridge and then went straight into one of the big law firms as a tax lawyer. I worked in London, in Paris, travelled all over the place and really enjoyed it. It was very fast paced and long hours but really exciting and good fun. However, after Zekey’s birth I struggled to see how I could be the best lawyer and the best mum. The firm would have been flexible but you have to be readily available for clients, so I decided to become a full-time mummy. I miss some of my colleagues, but my head is now full of my children and my husband.
How did the baking business come about? One rainy Friday afternoon I made rainbow-coloured challah with the children. They loved it and it became a regular activity. I started sharing photos online and the business snowballed. Now I teach and run workshops that fit in around the children.
Is it important for you that your children see you working? It’s important that they know I’m also a person and I have interests and hobbies and things that I do. They know they’re my absolute number one and come before everything, but they know that I used to be a lawyer and that I worked at school. I want to show my children the sky’s the limit and they can do and be anything they want.
Do you like being on TV? Yes. I was thrilled to appear on James Martin’s Saturday Morning. James was charming and a pleasure to work with. We filmed at his home in Winchester. It was a bit chilly and I worried I’d have to sit on my dough to help it rise!
Has your mum given you any TV advice? Before I went on This Morning she said: ‘Holly and Phil are delightful and you’ll just be having a nice chat.’ Afterwards, I was compared to Mary Berry, which is the greatest compliment.
As a baker you could become the female Paul Hollywood… I hope to do more TV and bring out a book. We don’t have any screen time at home and haven’t since Zekey arrived, but the children can watch me on TV at my mum’s house.
Why did you decide to do that? The role of technology in our lives is worrying. I felt I owed it to the children to be totally present. It can be difficult, but even if I’m tired I’d rather read them a story or bake with them. Mess is important too – I’d much rather we get utterly filthy and turn the whole house upside down if the children can have fun.
What was your mum’s reaction to you pausing your law career? She was incredibly supportive and was more surprised about the baking. She used to say: ‘But why are you baking bread in the shape of a turtle?’ We were never a baking family!
Is baking therapeutic? It’s brilliant for your mental health. If I feel things are getting on top of me, I’ll bake. It can help you feel calm. I’ve seen that with my children, too. Gardening has the same effect.
What kind of grandma is your mum? She’s so fun. She’s always telling them great jokes and stories and they confide in her. They’re very close. I hope I can be the kind of mum she is, because she really is a fab lady.
Do you and Dan plan to have more children? For now we’re good. I had two very difficult C-sections and I feel very blessed to have two healthy children. They’re both phenomenal. Zekey is very bright, incredibly generous and loves transport and gardening. Neroli is an absolute hoot and very, very loving.
Your mum had a gastric bypass a few months ago and had her gastric band removed. How did you feel about that? Any operation is tough and she didn’t take the decision lightly. It’s difficult to admit you need help controlling your weight. I’m proud of her for being honest. She’s very brave. Some people have all sorts done, never admit it and then take the credit. She would never do that.
How is she now? She’s still adjusting to her new shape but she’s already looking and feeling better. She’s enjoying food in a different way and has more energy. Mind you, she’s always been able to get up at 4am after partying in a nightclub till 2am! I don’t know how she does it.
She’s very candid about her private life. Were you embarrassed when she admitted she schedules sex with her fiancé Ben Ofoedu? No, we’re all grown-ups and she’s never inappropriate so I don’t worry. It’s all said in good humour.
What do you love about your kitchen? We’re very proud of our magnetic wall where the kids put their drawings, letters and photos. We found the cabinets by the side of the road. Ben carried them back and we painted them duck egg blue. They now contain my collection of teapots and cups.
Tell us about your pretty patio garden… We grow about 30 kinds of fruit and veg, such as beans, radishes, sweet corn, pumpkins and strawberries. It’s important for children to learn where food comes from. I loved the Duchess of Cambridge’s garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, I share her philosophy about children being outdoors.