An evening with Yotam OttolenghiMay 5, 2022 by Darcie
During his US tour Yotam Ottolenghi came to Minneapolis, and since it was so close to me and I am a huge fan of his cookbooks, I booked a ticket to listen to his talk. Although I had hoped to go in person, a sore throat (that is probably just allergies although I played it safe) made me switch to the online event. Despite the limitations of Zoom, it was an excellent way to spend an evening. I thought I would share a few snippets from the conversation (although I neglected to get a screen shot!).
Ottolenghi is as gracious as you would expect, and said that he finds book tours to be refreshing. He is grateful to see people who love his food and cook his recipes, and nothing satisfies him more than when someone tells him that one of his recipes has become part of their everyday repertoire. Ottolenghi hopes that if someone cooks a recipe of his on a regular basis, it might be passed on to the next generation and that will be part of his legacy.
During the talk, he shared a story that reminds him of how food can bring people together. While he was filming a BBC program about food in Jerusalem, he profiled a hole in the wall bakery (in business for over 100 years) that made a special pastry. While he was showing the audience how the pastry was made, a Palestinian family came in to purchase some of it. Ottolenghi asked the woman of the family why she liked it. As she was explaining the reasons she and her family returned to this bakery for many years, on a whim he asked if he could come to her house for a meal. He was surprised when she and her husband emailed him the next day, inviting him to their home. The family created an incredible feast that featured chicken, lamb, rice, flatbread, and more. While they eating, the discussion about the food naturally evolved to a more in-depth conversation. Ottolenghi said “we could just talk about anything” and that could not have happened if food wasn’t there to bond over.
Other parts of the discussion were more lighthearted. Ottolenghi noted that one commonality he has discovered across cultures is that everybody stuffs vegetables, no matter where they are from. It shows that you can take humble things and if you spend time with them, what comes out at the end can be beautiful. His favorite vegetable to stuff is zucchini.
When asked the question “if someone has never heard of you, how would you describe your style of cooking and flavors?” Ottolenghi somewhat surprisingly responded that his unique brand is less about the ingredients – although he does use certain items with great frequently – and more about creating an aesthetic in collaboration with his business partner Sami Tamimi. They designed how the dishes would look: keeping things vibrant by being vegetable-heavy, using big platters, adding height in the displays, and incorporating plenty of color contrast. It seems he was destined to be a hit on Instagram.
For fans who may worry that after writing so many cookbooks Ottolenghi might be suffering from burnout, fear not: he still loves creating recipes, and he is engaged in writing books more than he is involved with other tasks these days, with no plans to stop creating new masterpieces. He doesn’t approach writing a book with a theme in mind, instead he develops recipes and lets the story come to him through the food. That’s his advice to anyone who wants to write a cookbook: collect all of your favorite recipes and allow them to tell you the story.
Update: Ottolenghi posted on Instagram about his visit to the Nordic Ware Factory in Minneapolis. I’ve been trying to get a factory tour for ages; I guess when I start selling millions of cookbooks I can get one!
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