Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe books, are the go-to books for foodies looking to put on impressive dinner parties.
The flavour-filled dishes can be relied on to wow guests with exciting new tastes and textures and dishes with exotic and excitingly unpronounceable names.
So when I chatted recently to one of the nicest men in food, I had to ask him what he is served as a guest at dinner parties.
“If you are asking me has anyone made me my recipes then yes, they have,” he laughs.
“After a while people know I love to eat and I’m not that critical. Chefs are the biggest eaters so we’re a greedy crowd that are easy to please,” he smiles. He also laughingly admits that on many occasions the versions of his recipes cooked by his friends have been “better renditions than mine”.
When we spoke, the world’s most famous Jewish chef was due to enjoy a home-cooked meal with friends that night to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
“I’ll be with a group of friends with whom I always celebrate. We have a traditional meal which our hostess always cooks.”
This year is Ottolenghi’s first as a father to son Max who is nearly eight months old. Recently, the openly gay chef wrote candidly about the birth of his first child in The Guardian, saying “Max has already brought us immense joy. He has also forced our second coming out, this time as gay parents.”
Ottolenghi’s journey to becoming a father with long term partner Karl Allen has been lengthy, eventually culminating with Max’s birth to a surrogate mother in the United States.
In his “coming out” he admitted to always having wanted to have children which he put down to his “very Jewish anxieties” as well as his “positive experiences growing up in an affectionate and nurturing family”.
He is clearly smitten with his and Allen’s little boy and has adjusted his work schedule to reflect his new priorities.
“I want to spend as much time as possible with my son, so I choose not to work weekends,” he says.
Max is already enjoying food and according to his father, despite being challenged in the tooth department, he eats everything.
“We went for Japanese the other day and we handed him a Gyoza dumpling which he loved. He ate three of them with hardly any teeth!”
Fatherhood has not slowed down his work. He is now hard at work in his test kitchen in Camden writing and tasting recipes for one of two new books he has agreed to write for publisher, Ebury Press. The first, Plenty More, which is scheduled for publication in 2014, will feature more of the interesting and colourful vegetable recipes which feature in his weekly column. “We recook them and adjust where necessary and invent some more,” he explains.
A second book — due to be published in 2015 — he describes as more “fussy” than Plenty More. He is writing it with Ramael Scully, head chef at his Nopi restaurant.
“It is less home cooking but not too busy for the home cook and is accessible to everybody,” he explains.
“Turning restaurant food into home food is a challenge but it will feature interesting spices and sauces,” he says.
Some of the inspiration for his books and restaurant food come from his travels of which he has done plenty this summer.
“I never travel anywhere where the food won’t be good so I always come back with new ideas and I try to exchange recipes with the locals,” he says.
He spent much of the summer island hopping in the Mediterranean for a second series on More4 of his Mediterranean Feast. This series will feature episodes in Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Majorca. “Each island was substantial enough to sustain a whole programme with its own food stories,” he shares. Although filming is intensive he is clearly passionate about the subject matter, talking of how inspiring the various cultures have been: “Sardinia offered all the riches of Italy in a relatively small place.”
The episodes are due to be screened in late October or early November this year.
As a result of all his work, he and Sami Tamimi — his business partner in the Ottolenghi and Nopi restaurants — have divided responsibilities for their burgeoning empire. Tamimi is very much at the helm of the restaurants while Ottolenghi picks up other areas. “I do visit each week, but Sami is always there while I do the books, recipe writing and publicity,” he explains.
The pair and their business partners are looking for a new site as their Kensington branch has recently closed.
“We reached the end of the lease. The site was so small we decided not to renew. We want to open another site of a similar size to our Islington restaurant so that people can sit in and eat at tables. Hopefully next year.”
Even fatherhood has not slowed down the rise of our favourite Israeli chef.
Mediterranean Feast will be shown on More4 in late October or early November