How Yotam Ottolenghi 'sexed up' vegetables
Chef and writer Yotam Ottolenghi says the "humble vegetable" deserves more culinary attention, and reveals what he eats at the end of a long day cooking.
Yotam Ottolenghi says we should send overcooked vegetables back to kitchen as we would a well-done steak.
"We go to a restaurant and they ask us 'How would you like your meat cooked sir, madam?' and you say "I love mine medium" or "I love mine rare" and if it's not right you send it back," says the London-based Israeli chef.
"That reverence towards meat we don't have towards vegetables. We don't send back our cauliflower if it's overcooked."
Ottolenghi is the biggest rock star chef on the planet right now. Currently in Australia for Good Food Month, his Mediterranean Feast dinner at Surry Hills' Nomad restaurant sold out in four minutes and his Opera House conversation with Good Food Month director Joanna Savill had its allocation exhausted by midday after going on sale.
This is Ottolenghi's third time in Australia. He says he loves the cleanness of Australian food and its vibrancy of flavour.
"It reminds me very much of the food I grew up with in the Middle East," he says. "I've actually worked with many Australian chefs so it felt like I'd been here even before I came here for the first time. It feels like a second home almost, culinary wise."
Born in Jerusalem, and with a background in journalism and philosophy, the 45-year-old is not your average celebrity chef. He moved to Britain in 1997 to start a PhD, decided he liked cooking more, and is now a TV host and the author of four bestselling cookbooks including Plenty, Jerusalem, and his latest, Plenty More. There are four Ottolenghi restaurants and delis in London with a fifth to open next year.
His cooking is rooted in Middle Eastern ingredients and style, but regularly combines elements of other world cuisines. It's big, colourful, textured, and what he describes as "happy".
He also been credited with making vegetables "sexy" again and believes we are in the middle of a global vegetable revolution.
"It used to be the case they [vegetables] were always relegated to the side," he says. "They were overcooked, they didn't get a lot of attention, it was quite depressing.
"But that's a result of old-school vegetarianism. That approach, that if you don't have the best thing, which is the meat, then you might as well not have delicious food altogether, is kind of ridiculous. I think now there is a sense that it's not so much about vegetarianism but redressing the balance and having a celebration of vegetables and eating them and enjoying all the flavours."
Not that Ottolenghi lives on cauliflower and cabbage alone.
"People ask, 'What's your guilty pleasure?' " he says. "Ramen noodles with lots of MSG is absolutely fine!"
Yotam Ottolenghi is visiting Australia as part of Good Food Month presented by Citi in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. For details of the program visit goodfoodmonth.com.