I have been a fan of Yotam for years. When I first stumbled into Ottolenghi in Notting Hill during my early twenties I fell in love with it. Piles of fresh, vibrant food inviting me to grab a fork and get eating. It was genius and at a time when I was exploring the world to find new cuisines, it was incredible to have something so innovative on my doorstep in London.
Yotam’s faultless fusion food is a mix of his native Israel with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian influences. “I opened myself up to the world, through books, magazines, travelling and colleagues at work. I did a whole journey around the world and absorbed different influences.”
After training at Le Cordon Bleu for six months, Yotam trained in different restaurants in London. Whilst working as a pastry chef at Baker and Spice he met his partner in crime Sami Tamini, co-founder of the Ottolenghi Delis and books Ottolenghi and Jerusalem.
In the years since, the Israeli chef has taken the restaurant scene by storm with NOPI restaurant and three Ottolenghi cafes. He is opening a new one next year in Spitalfields on Artillery Lane. He writes for countless magazines and his books have sold in their thousands all over the world.
His new book Plenty More, which he describes as a labour of love, will make even the staunchest carnivore beg for more. It’s an incredible selection of vegetarian dishes put together by Yotam and his team at Ottolenghi. ‘I have been travelling and collecting ideas from everywhere and I felt it was time to share them. The book is not only about ingredients, it’s also about a way of treating vegetables and cooking in a different way.’
The recipes in Plenty More make the humble vegetable look better than the mightiest meat dish. Chapters are split into techniques like grilled or mashed, a decision close to Yotam’s heart as he was keen to change perceptions and show everyone that different cooking techniques for vegetables have a massive effect on the end result.
“Compared to meat, there is not same respect when it comes to cooking vegetables. So when I put my recipes together I wanted people to understand that when you, say, take a Brussels sprout, there is so much you can do with it using different cooking techniques. You can roast it, fry it, cook it in a risotto or chop it raw into a slaw. There are at least 5 ways to cook it that would yield different results and I don’t think people realise that.”
He talks passionately about the importance of a balanced diet, rich in vegetables and going easy on meat. His mission statement for Plenty More is to make vegetables, lentils and grains taste just as delicious and exciting without the meat. He has done this with clever cooking techniques and using ingredients like capers, spices and mature cheeses to introduce the umami flavours that we love so much in meat dishes.
We also chatted about his excitement for the cauliflower renaissance happening in kitchens across London. For those not in the know, just marvel at his simply joyous cauliflower cake, made with cauliflower, red onion and Parmesan cheese. This cake is as clever as it is delicious and exactly the kind of recipe that we love to see from this unstoppable chef.
Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi published by Ebury Press £27 available on Amazon