Ottolenghi: 'I took secret ham sandwiches to my Jerusalem school'

The celebrated chef also said he was shocked to discover the full English breakfast when moving to the UK


Yotam Ottolenghi has confessed to secretly taking ham sandwiches in his packed lunch to his Jerusalem school as a child.

Speaking to Ruthie’s Table podcast, The 54-year-old talked about growing up in Jerusalem and admitted he had ham sandwiches at school despite pork being forbidden.

He said: "I grew up in a non-traditional Jewish home, very secular. Food-wise, we had pork which was unheard of.

"My mum had that butcher in Jerusalem, the one and only one that sold pork but it was under the counter in a brown bag.

"She used to come and buy ham and we used to get ham sandwiches for school but we were not allowed to say what is in our sandwiches and we were not allowed to share it with friends.

"So the cover story was that it was Turkey but a very pink Turkey."

In the interview with Ruth Rogers, the American-born chef who owns and runs the acclaimed River Cafe in west London, the Israeli chef also expressed his horror at discivering the traditional full English fry-up breakfast when he first moved to the Uk.

He described the full English breakfast, which typically consists of bacon, fried egg, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, toast, and grilled tomatoes as an 'abomination'.

The 54-year-old said he was shocked when he saw the dish for the first time, but eventually came to like it.

He said: "When I came here, and I saw that grilled tomato and sausage and beans, I thought 'what an abomination'. I do like it though."

He added: “The most important meal of the day in our house was breakfast.

"We had this spread of food. Mostly on the weekend, but even before I went to school there were freshly sliced vegetables, feta-style cheese, fresh bread.

"This is what I do for my kids. When they go to school, I give them this massive breakfast, and Karl, my husband, says 'is that really breakfast?'

"They love it, it's delicious. Different cultures do breakfast differently.”

Speaking about what his Italian and German Jewish parents cooked at home, he went on to say: "I feel I grew up in this world where it was very European food at home.

"My father was cooking traditional Italian dishes and my mum was kind of an international cook but with a very dramatic approach to cooking.

"But when we went out, we used to eat Palestinian or Arabic food and that's the mix I grew up having."

It comes as the celebrated chef recently marked 20 years of working in London and is now the co-owner of a group of seven restaurants across the UK capital.

Ottolenghi is famous for its special menu which includes a fusion of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African ingredients.

He is also author of several bestselling cookery books, including Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (2008), Plenty (2010), Jerusalem (2012) and Simple (2018).

Reflecting on his group of restaurants, the 54-year-old added: “It was never supposed to be just me. My name went above the door, but it was always about a group of people.”

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