'Ottolenghi effect' spicing up Sydney's dining scene

Esther Han
"Rosewater, orange blossom, Israeli couscous - he's elevated these elements to a whole new level": Chefs Nathan Sasi and ...
"Rosewater, orange blossom, Israeli couscous - he's elevated these elements to a whole new level": Chefs Nathan Sasi and Michael Rantissi. Photo: Getty Images/Lisa Maree Williams


If the words paprika, za'atar and tahini now roll off the tongue as easily as salt and pepper, and feature as key ingredients in the pantry, the man you have to thank is the British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

Food critics, cookery writers and trend experts around the world have hailed Ottolenghi as a major reason why sales of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients have gone through the roof in recent years.

Influential: British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
Influential: British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo: Supplied

Once the target of complaints for the lengthy lists of exotic ingredients in his cookbooks, the media-savvy chef is now being celebrated for introducing his fresh takes on traditional recipes into home and restaurant kitchens.

Nathan Sasi, head chef of Nomad in Surry Hills, said his modern Australian-Mediterranean menu reflected what has been dubbed the "Ottolenghi effect".

"Rosewater, orange blossom, Israeli couscous, he's elevated these elements to a whole new level. I'm always referencing his books looking for inspiration," he said.

"If there's one dish that encapsulates Ottolenghi effect, it's the very popular haloumi made with jersey milk, served with grilled zucchini, beautiful pinenuts and raisin. That's very much influenced by Ottolenghi."

In late October, Sasi will play host to Ottolenghi in his airy, open-plan dining room for a greatly anticipated Good Food Month event.

Sasi said the Ottolenghi effect was also palpable at Kitchen by Mike in Rosebery and Sefa Kitchen in Bondi.

Michael Rantissi, the Israeli-born chef and owner of the vibrant Kepos Street Kitchen in Redfern, is thankful to Ottolenghi for propelling their home cuisine into the international spotlight.

Ottolenghi's shows such as Jerusalem on a Plate and Mediterranean Feast, broadcast last year on SBS, are pushing higher numbers of inspired and informed customers through Kepos' doors.

"He made it more accessible, groovy and cool," he said. "Five years ago most people thought of the traditional kebab shop at 2am when they were drunk. But it's about being healthy, being filling, being hearty and being about a lot of vegetables."

Amanda Sayed, of the Oriental & Continental specialty food shop in Artarmon, has witnessed an 80 per cent sales surge of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients such as rosewater, mograbia couscous and the purple spice sumac in the past five years.

Bottles of pomegranate molasses, each $6.99, are flying off the shelves. Half a decade ago, Sayed was ordering one container of 20,000 bottles from Lebanon a year. Now she is ordering five times that.

"People who used to buy these from me would have been Lebanese and Turkish. And now I've got Italians, Croatians, Australians, Chinese, everyone," she said. "They want to be creative; they want more flavour in their food."

Ottolenghi will star in three events, including a feast at Nomad, during Good Food Month in October.