Interview with Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi

I had the pleasure to sit down with this well-known celebrity chef and cookbook author for a wonderful conversation on his recent visit to Vancouver. The night before the interview he was the highlight of an evening talk presented by the Vancouver Jewish Book Festival. Yotam was on stage in conversation with CKNW Radio host Simi Sara, following the talk we all enjoyed a reception and bites from several recipes from his latest book “Plenty More”.

Yotam Ottolenghi owns five London restaurants and is a columnist for The Guardian. He grew up in Jerusalem, he’s widely known for cooking Middle Eastern cuisine.

What got you into cooking?

Eating to start with, I was always a big eater even when I was very young, I never thought about it as a career. When I was almost 29 years old, I decided to see if I could do something with cooking as a career. I used to cook a lot for friends that came over, I never did it professionally. I moved to London and took some courses at the Le Cordon Bleu studying at night. I felt liberated by food, more relaxed than when I was stressed out in the library and reading articles.

You have restaurants in London, Why haven’t you opened restaurants in Tel Aviv?

When I opened Ottolenghi in London I was one of 4 partners, I already knew the restaurant scene and I had lived there for a few years. I feel that I would need to be living in any city that I had a restaurant to be able to oversee operations.

In your book “Plenty More”, one chapter is devoted to Roasted, tell me about this chapter

Like the other chapters, It is a cooking technique, features a way of making vegetables taste great. Roasting after boiling is the simplest way to cook vegetables.  You peel them throw them in the pan with some aromatics and you have got a meal. You get two textures when you roast the vegetables.

Tell me about Date Syrup

I use date syrup in many of my recipes, it’s easy to find in the Middle East. I am sure you can get date syrup here in Vancouver, usually you can find it in a Iranian or Persian shop.

What 3 Ingredients would we find in your Home pantry?

More like 300, but here are the standouts.

  • Tahini
  • Preserved lemons
  • Million types of chili flakes (each has a slightly different aroma and works well with a dish)

When eating out in restaurants what type of food do you like to eat?

Something different from what I cook such as Ramen soup, Vietnamese rolls, and more hearty dishes.

What’s Next on your Culinary Journey?

Writing another book in collaboration (Nopi Cookbook) based on my restaurants in London. This restaurant has slightly more of an Asian edge to it. My co-writer is of Malaysian background, more Asian and restaurant focus in the book, strong flavours.  We will be using more aromatics and it will be more restauranty than the other books.

Opening another restaurant Ottolenghi restaurant/deli in the spring in Liverpool Street station in East London.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere really, I get inspired by my travels, my big collection of cookbooks, magazines. Mostly by people I meet and work with. I have a lot of colleagues that come from all over the world, and I get inspired by them.

What is your favourite food that you cook at home?

Mjadra –rice with lentils and fried onions. It is the perfect home dish, it is extremely comforting, and its simple to make.

Which 3 wines do you enjoy personally?

  • Natural, Biodynamic wine which is more interesting and more like my food.
  • Natural white wines
  • Also like dried Sherry’s to go with the food.

If there was one thing you could do as a chef that you have not done already, what would it be?

I would like to go to Georgia and eat dumplings.

Have you been to Vancouver before?

No this is my first time, I really need to come back soon on an eating tour around this city.

His latest cookbook, Plenty More is published by Random House and you can get this book along with his others at Books to Cooks in Vancouver.

By: Richard Wolak