Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-British chef, recipe writer and restaurant owner. He is the co-owner of several delis and restaurants in London, including Ottolenghi Notting Hill, and the author of four cookbooks.
You have a big US tour coming this month [SWEET is out October 3]. Talk about what you hope to share while you are here?
I am coming to share mine and my co-author Helen Goh’s love, almost obsession, with baking. Helen and I have been working together for 10 years coming up with new cakes, cookies and desserts all the time. We are so proud of our new book, which features some of our favorite ingredients and which has been aimed at bakers of different levels of experience. There’s a chocolate brownie recipe in the book with tahini and halva that I seriously think every person should try before they die. It is my absolute favorite.
Where did you grow up and who or what was your inspiration to start a career in the food industry?
I grew up in Jerusalem but I trained as a chef in London. At home we had the most incredible food but I also loved street food, which is predominantly Palestinian. I was exposed to both European and Middle Eastern traditions of cooking and those shaped the way I cook. When I arrived in London I worked with different chefs but I was mostly inspired by the people that worked closely with me in the company, Sami Tamimi, my co-author of Jerusalem, and Helen Goh,
What’s your cooking style and philosophy? What’s your read on the move towards plant based eating?
Well, it has to feel generous and colorful and bold in flavor. I am all for putting the emphasis on vegetables. This has been my motto for a very long time: we’d do ourselves a massive service by eating less yet better meat and many more vegetables. I love using tons of herbs and spices. I like surprises in the food, a bit of drama in the mouth.
As a parent, what are your concerns with how children are eating and learning about food?
My main concern is processed food. I truly believe that a home in which fresh food is prepared every day is the best place for children to evolve into ‘good’ eaters, by which I mean adventurous eaters, no too fussy, with a tendency to eat a balanced diet. We are surrounded by food that has very little real ingredients in it and lots of artificially produced flavors. I think kids that will be exposed to real ingredients will end up having a better relationship with food.
Talk about the impact that your stay in London has had on your career?
London is a great city in the sense that it attracts talents from all over the world. I have been exposed to so many types of food and attitudes to cooking and these have made me who I am today. The Brits demand good food but they are also very open to outside influences, which I have very much benefited from.
You’ve worked closely with an architect to build a “look” for your restaurants. How did they evolve?
Our architect is also a close friend. Alex Meitlis has always offered certain visions – a modern, minimal look – which is a great canvas against which food really shines. Alex works closely with us, listens to our needs and then offers an initial design. There’s a lot of going back and forward with the design but, essentially, there is trust and there is also a design language which has evolved over time and which keeps on informing every new restaurant.
To learn more about Yotam Ottolenghi, visit his website.